Feeding kids has become a year-round operation for Common Ground Network.
In January, the group of churches and nonprofit associations joined forces with the Weekend Backpack Ministry. Coupled with Common Ground’s Feed the Kids for Summer program, the group now is putting food on the table for hundreds of children across the Mansfield school district almost every week of the year.
“We’re making a difference in the lives of children,” said Suzy Herrmann, who co-chairs the Feed the Kids for Summer program. “We can only do it through the generous donations from people in Mansfield. No one wants to see a child go hungry.”
Despite Mansfield’s affluent reputation, there are hungry kids in the community.
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“It’s a national problem, not a Mansfield problem,” said Phil Stover, who co-chairs the program with Herrmann.
Working with Common Ground was a blessing, said Bob Klenzendorf, who manages the project with his wife, Kay.
“We were basically going from week to week,” he said. “Common Ground is a 501(c)3. Now when people donate, they can write it off. Some people won’t donate if you aren’t a 501(c)3.”
The Weekend Backpack Program sent home 300 backpacks every Friday for 33 weeks at 23 schools this year, Klenzendorf said. That program will wrap up May 24. On May 31, the Feed the Kids for Summer program kicks off, with organizers predicting they will need 900 bags each week, filled with seven days of breakfasts, lunches and snacks, for 11 weeks.
The cost for the combined programs is $85,000 for the year, but Common Ground’s budget is only $75,000, Stover said. The weekend backpacks of food cost $2.40, while the summer bags with seven days of food cost $6.40 each, he said.
“We don’t have the money,” Stover said. “That’s a leap of faith.”
Organizers are hoping that donations will come in to cover the extra $10,000 needed. Donations of funds are better than food donations, Stover said, because “we pay $5 for what would cost you $12 because we buy in bulk.”
Eleven churches from across the community stepped up to help with the Weekend Backpack Program, paying for each bag of two breakfasts, two lunches and two snacks. Walnut Ridge Baptist, Bethlehem Baptist, Christ Church of Mansfield, Church of Christ, Creekwood Church, First United Methodist, Living Word Outreach, Mansfield Bible Church, Rush Creek Christian, St. Jude Catholic and the Community at Lake Ridge all adopted schools, but there were still five schools that were not adopted, so Common Ground paid for the backpacks at those schools.
The association between the schools and the churches is a good thing, Herrmann said, because they form a relationship. If a student or student’s family needs assistance, school counselors know the people at a church and can turn to them for help, she explained. The counselors are a vital part of the Weekend Backpack Program.
“The kids were identified by the counselors at the school,” she said. “The counselors get permission from the parents. The kids come by on Fridays and get a bag of food in their backpack.”
The Feed the Kids for Summer, entering its 14th year, has grown much larger and is less formal. Parents and kids pick up the bags of food at seven food pantries, Community Action Partners, Living Word Outreach, St. Jude’s Catholic Church’s St. Vincent de Paul, Wesley Mission Center, RCCG Lighthouse for the Nations, Harvesting International Ministry and Bethlehem Baptist. Each pantry has pre-set days for food pickup.
“The (families) don’t have to qualify, just walk in,” said Robin Rowe, a member of the Common Ground Network. “Anybody that comes in and is hungry will get something to eat.”
The youngsters will also get something to read, thanks to a donation from Half Price Books. Children can pick out books to read, take them home and keep them.
“If they can carry them out, they can have them,” Rowe said.
And there are even prizes for children who bring back their reading logs that show they are reading.
Packing 900 bags a week for 11 weeks takes a small army of people, and that’s what shows up, anywhere from 125 to 175 each week, Stover said.
“Whole families come at night,” he said. “It’s a good thing to teach your kids.
“Come volunteer and give us money, it will do your heart good,” he said.
To donate or volunteer, contact Phil Stover at firstname.lastname@example.org or Suzy Herrmann at email@example.com.