After seven years, the volunteers’ enthusiasm for the Feed the Kids for Summer program seems to be keeping pace with the growing need.“People have great attitudes,” said Suzy Herrmann, the program’s co-chairperson. “They are ready to work. This is the third week without air conditioning and look at everybody.”On the final night of the 11-week program, dozens of volunteers swirled in and around a portable building behind First Baptist Church, stuffing almost a thousand bags with cereal, oatmeal, crackers, soup and instant meals in less than an hour.“This is like a well-oiled machine,” said Andrew Loh, the incoming president of the Mansfield Key Club who was volunteering for the first time with Feed the Kids.Like every other summer, this year the number of bags increased, feeding 8,565 children, up from 1,980 in 2007. Common Ground, a non-profit group of churches, began the program after discovering that children in the Mansfield school district on free and reduced lunches were returning hungry in the fall.Food pantries in the school district began handing out bags to children packed with meals they could make themselves, in case their parents weren’t home during the day. Last year, Feed the Kids added a book program, letting the youngsters also pick out books to read and keep.“Signs are that it will get bigger, and God will have to provide,” said Phil Stover, who co-chairs the program. “He always has.”But it has been close sometimes, Stover admitted. Each bag costs $5.02 -- $45,000 for the program this year -- and all of the funds come from donations.“There have been weeks I didn’t think we had the money for groceries,” he said. “One day I wrote a letter to (Common Ground president) Susan Luttrell saying we’ve got to find some money. Three grants came through that day.”As the funds continued to arrive, so did the volunteers -- 20 to 30 every Wednesday morning to unload trucks of food and 60 to 70 every Wednesday night to pack the individual bags. “It’s a great cause,” said Brittany Dalke, who volunteered this summer. “We get competitive and race each other.”Glen Smith and his wife have been volunteering since the first summer, packing bags and then handing them out at the Wesley Mission Center’s food pantry.“You’d be surprised at the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Smith said. “They’ll come in and read to you.”Even as sweat started to roll down people’s faces in the humid heat, they kept smiling and laughing.“You may be sweating, you may be hot, but it’s Texas and you’re serving,” said Hunter Wylie, who has volunteered most of the summer.Even with the hard work and heat, Herrmann said she misses it the rest of the year.“We’re all sad that it’s ending and looking forward to next year,” she said.
Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451 Twitter: @AmandaRogersNM