Suzy Herrmann and Phil Stover play a numbers game every summer, trying to find enough dollars and food to feed a growing number of children in the Mansfield school district.
The co-chairs of Feed the Kids for Summer, along with Shane Whisler, expect to make up more than 10,000 bags of kid-friendly food, with a tab of $55,000.
“We need money,” Herrmann said. “We’ve contacted everybody in the chamber, Wal-mart, written grants. We have contacted all the people who have given in the past to ask them to consider giving again.”
Common Ground Network, a group of Mansfield-area churches, started the Feed the Kids for Summer program in 2007 after teachers reported that some of their students were returning in the fall unable to concentrate because they hadn’t had enough to eat during the summer break.
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“The teachers tell us that the kids are improving, they’re making progress in school,” Stover said. “We would love to see the standard of living raised, and the only way to do that is to get an education. You can’t do that if you’re hungry.”
The program has grown from 2,000 youngsters in 2007 to 10,100 this year, said Stover, who doesn’t expect that trend to reverse any time soon.
“Thirty-eight percent of our students are in the free and reduced lunch program, that’s 12,108 kids in the Mansfield school district,” Stover said. “We’re still not getting to all of them.”
So far, the volunteer group has raised enough money for about half of the summer, Herrmann said. And, yes, she does worry about where the rest of the funds.
“Every year, but God has come through and provided every single year,” she said. “If we run out of money, we’re out of money and can’t provide any food.”
Somehow, the money always arrives, Stover agreed.
“We’ve been in weeks where we didn’t have money,” he said. “Twice I’ve called Susan (Luttrell, president of Common Ground) and said I don’t know what I’m going to do. That same day money came in. We’ve never not met our budget.”
And the funds come from some interesting places. One young lady rounded up money for her bat mitzvah, Walnut Ridge Baptist Church donated enough for milk for the entire summer, Mansfield Cares ponied up $10,000, the Kiwanis donate cash and all the bags, local dentists are having a contest to see who can raise the most money and food, Key Clubs raise funds throughout the year and the kids from First United Methodist Church’s Vacation Bible Camp collect money every summer.
In addition to funds, Feed the Kids for Summer also requires an army of volunteers, who arrive every Wednesday to help unload pallets of food in the morning and then pack it in kid-size bags in the evening. Seniors, moms with babies in slings, Scouts, college kids, children and even the mayor line up to put crackers, granola bars, pudding cups, cereal, tuna, macaroni and cheese, fruit cups and ramen noodles in plastic bags in a coordinated effort that resembles an overturned ant hill in the portable building behind First Baptist Church.
Volunteers are needed to load enough for five breakfasts, five lunches and five snacks into individual bags for 940 youngsters each week for the next 11 weeks, starting today and running through Aug. 13 (except for June 25 when the youngsters from First Methodist will take over).
“Anybody can volunteer,” Herrmann said. “It gets thinner as the summer goes on, but we’ve always had volunteers, especially in the evening. Little kids learn to give back. And it’s fun. If you want to volunteer, show up.”
Once the bags are packed, they are loaded into vehicles and distributed to 10 to 11 local food pantries, where the youngsters will pick them up each week. In addition, the kids can also get a serving of learning. For the past two years, Feed the Kids for Summer has added a book program that lets the children pick out a book each week to read and keep or return.
People who want to donate to Feed the Kids for Summer can give cash or food, Herrmann said, although she pointed out that the program is able to buy in bulk so funds go further. To donate, contact Common Ground Network at (817) 240-3509 or send funds to P.O. Box 1049, Mansfield, Texas 76063. Mark donations for Feed the Kids for Summer.
“We’ll take anything,” Herrmann said. “It takes $5 to feed a kid for a week.”
Stover and Herrmann have faith that the community will come through for Feed the Kids for Summer again this year.
“Mansfield has more people working to help than anywhere I’ve ever been,” Stover said. “Mansfield has a heart. It begins with the city, the district and churches, Mansfield Cares, Habitat for Humanity, Battle of the Nines. We’re blessed to live in a community that cares about its people. We want our kids to be better than the last generation.”