In This Season of Thanks and Giving

As I busy myself with upcoming preparations, like menu planning and making out a grocery list, and debating if it would be best to shred or slice zucchini for a new recipe I’m going to try out, these mundane thoughts are interrupted by something much more important, wondering what Thanksgiving will be like for some of our 12,000+ kids.

A child so hungry he rummages through a garbage can, snatching and stuffing into his pockets a partially eaten sandwich, a bit of apple. He is worried about his younger sister who isn’t yet school age and wants her to have some food in her belly before the day slips away.

I think of the student who messed up big time on a homework assignment. The class was learning about sequencing and the student couldn’t figure out how to put in proper order the steps for making a bed. It seems a basic thing, something any third grader should be able to do. But, spend some time with this student and it becomes apparent that she is a bright child, one who likes to please and struggles to do her best. However, she does not have a memory of her head ever touching a pillow. She often sleeps on floors and, if lucky, the couches of friends or family. She is one of 2.5 million children (1 in 30) who is homeless in America. It’s hard to figure out the steps to making a bed when you don’t have one, when the only pillow you’ve ever seen is in a book.

And then there’s the sixth grade girl who shows up to school every day wearing shoes that are so badly worn that the soles flap up and down as she walks through the halls. She feels like a clown. Though some of her classmates tease her, one offers up a pair of their own worn, but respectable pair of shoes.

Or what about that high school student who has been missing too much school lately?

These students bring to mind a conversation I recently had with someone. She said that as a child she was thankful for school each and every day. “I didn’t want to leave it. I’d figure out strategies to stay as long as possible. Anything to not go home.” School, she said, was her haven.

For too many children, weekends, holidays, and snow days take away the haven of school, the solace that comes in knowing they will have a breakfast and a lunch, a warm and stable environment that isn’t always a given once the school bell rings at the end of the day.

What will these children—who sleep on floors and worry where their next meal will come from—what will they doing on Thanksgiving? Will they have enough to eat? Anything to eat? Where, on Thanksgiving night will they lay their heads to sleep? Unfortunately, for many children throughout our nation, Thanksgiving is no different from any other day. It will just be what every other 364 days of the year means: survival.

The good news is that in each of the above situations, CIS was able to reach out to these children because of you. We—and those students and their families—are thankful for YOU.  You give out of your abundance— your heart, financial support, resources, and time. These students, and many more, are doing well and able to focus on school because of you.

What are you thankful for? We’ll leave you with just a few things our 12,000+ kids tell us they are thankful for: school, CIS, mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers, teachers, principals, secretaries, the Kalamazoo Promise®, dogs, phones, football, shoes, glasses, clothes, food, presents of any kind, a bed to sleep in, a room of my own so that I can walk into it. Their lists go on. And it includes you.

Note: This post ran three years ago in Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Originally titled “Mis(Thanks)Giving,” it’s back by popular demand.  

Mis(thanks)giving

misthankgivingAs I busy myself with upcoming preparations, like menu planning and making out a grocery list, and debating if it would be best to shred or slice zucchini for a new recipe I’m going to try out, these mundane thoughts are interrupted by something much more important, wondering what Thanksgiving will be like for some of our 12,000+ kids.

A child so hungry he rummages through a garbage can, snatching and stuffing into his pockets a partially eaten sandwich, a bit of apple. He is worried about his younger sister who isn’t yet school age and wants her to have some food in her belly before the day slips away.

I think of the student who messed up big time on a homework assignment. The class was learning about sequencing and the student couldn’t figure out how to put in proper order the steps for making a bed. It seems a basic thing, something any third grader should be able to do. But, spend some time with this student and it becomes apparent that she is a bright child, one who likes to please and struggles to do her best. However, she does not have a memory of her head ever touching a pillow. She often sleeps on floors and, if lucky, the couches of friends or family. She is one of 2.5 million children (1 in 30) who is homeless in this country. It’s hard to figure out the steps to making a bed when you don’t have one, when the only pillow you’ve ever seen is in a book.

And then there’s the sixth grade girl who shows up to school every day wearing shoes that are so badly worn that the soles flap up and down as she walks through the halls. She feels like a clown. Though some of her classmates tease her, one offers up a pair of their own worn, but respectable pair of shoes.

Or what about that high school student who has been missing too much school lately?

These students bring to mind a conversation I recently had with someone. She said that as a child she was thankful for school each and every day. “I didn’t want to leave it. I’d figure out strategies to stay as long as possible. Anything to not go home.” School, she said, was her haven.

For too many children, weekends, holidays, and snow days take away the haven of school, the solace that comes in knowing they will have a breakfast and a lunch, a warm and stable environment that isn’t always a given once the school bell rings at the end of the day.

What will these children—who sleep on floors and worry where their next meal will come from—what will they doing on Thanksgiving? Will they have enough to eat? Anything to eat? Where, on Thanksgiving night will they lay their heads to sleep? Unfortunately, for many children throughout our nation, Thanksgiving is no different from any other day. It will just be what every other 364 days of the year means: survival.

The good news is that in each of the above situations, CIS was able to reach out to these children because of you. We—and those students and their families—are thankful for YOU.  You give out of your abundance— your heart, financial support, resources, and time. These students—and many more—are doing well and able to focus on school because of you.

What are you thankful for? We’ll leave you with just a few things our 12,000+ kids tell us they are thankful for: school, CIS, mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers,teachers, principals, secretaries, the Kalamazoo Promise®, dogs, phones, football, shoes,glasses, clothes, food, presents of any kind, a bed to sleep in, a room of my own so that I can walk into it. Their lists go on. And it includes you.

 

Communities throughout the country are partnering with CIS to make a difference for students and their families, particularly during the holiday season. You can get a taste of what is going on by checking out this great post by Steve Majors.

 

We Can’t Have a Strong America with Weak Kids

Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. When a child is hungry, it impacts that child’s ability to learn. It’s harder to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, it’s difficult to focus on reading, and to regulate behavior. A chronically hungry child is worried when and where their next meal will come from.

I had written the above words and then met Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. Actually, we didn’t really meet and Mr. Shore has no clue who I am. I was just one in the crowd when he stepped out to the podium the day after the Awards of Excellence celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s just that he was so engaging, funny, and thoughtful that I felt like we met. He said a lot of important things in his speech but what has stuck with me is this: “We can’t have a strong America with weak kids.”

In America, there are 11 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade who live in poverty. That is, as Mr. Shore pointed out, a lot of children coming to school in a state of distress, sitting at their desks “fundamentally compromised in their learning…plopping them in front of a great teacher” does not solve the problem. If anything, it is, in the eyes of Mr. Shore “setting children up to fail.”

Since 2003, here in Kalamazoo we have learned that if we can send kids home with food on Fridays, they return to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn.

Thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Friday Foodpacks have been one of the “tools” CIS Site Coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help. Just last school year, 750 elementary students received a weekly foodpack while food pantries served students in El Sol Elementary and all six secondary schools.

As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Anne Lipsey, the entire KLF staff and their board that our Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers can get Friday Foodpacks into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children. For students like Charles (not his real name), it can make all the difference.

Identified this year by his CIS Site Coordinator as someone who could benefit fromFriday Foodpacks, Charles was looking forward to receiving his pack. At the same time, it so happened his school, like many schools, was engaged in a food drive. So when Friday arrived and his Site Coordinator gave him his first ever foodpack, he informed her he was going to donate all of it to the food drive. After all, he knows what it feels like to be hungry. He is hungry a lot. Weekends especially.

She looked into eager eyes and in her wisdom said, “How about this time you pick one thing from your bag to donate? Just this one time, okay?”

He loved the idea. So, he parted with one item and then went home, with dignity and food still in his pack.

Upon hearing this story, CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery replied, “Loaves & Fishes is about feeding hungry people, but it is also about dignity.” How true. One of the hunger stories noted on the KLF website quotes someone as saying, “KLF volunteers always made me feel like somebody instead of nothing.” Our Site Coordinators and community volunteers are doing the same thing within the schools. Providing both access to food and embodying the KLF values: respect, diversity & inclusion, stewardship & accountability, integrity, collaboration, urgency, and service.

By working through us within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes taps into the heart of one of our values or what we refer to as a “CIS basic”:  that all children deserve a healthy start in life. And, for one little boy, who, according to the Site Coordinator is now eating every last crumb in his pack, it spoke to another CIS basic, the opportunity to give back to peers and community.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who make it possible for our children to arrive to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn. Milwood Christian Reformed Church (MRC helped pilot this program back in 2003) both carry out the foodpack distribution at Milwood Elementary and financially support this program. And when MCR volunteers Helen Anderson and Thelma Vantill go on vacation they find people from the church to step in while they’re gone. Mt. Zion financially supports the foodpacks at Northglade. Workers who are part of the MRC Industries sheltered workshop pack food into bags for Edison and Spring Valley each week. Out at other KPS schools, our kids rely on CIS volunteers like Allison Leonard (Parkwood Upjohn), Rose Blackwood (Prairie Ridge), and Cortney Afton (Lincoln) to make sure the packs get to kids in time for the weekend.

CIS Site Coordinator Leslie Poucher Pratt refers to these foodpack volunteers as “All Stars.” We couldn’t agree more.

Director of Volunteer Services, Abby Nappier, says we still need a number of volunteers to help deliver foodpacks to children within several schools. So, if you or someone you know may want to volunteer, click here.

There is, Mr. Shore reminds us, much work to be done when it comes to eradicating child hunger. Until then, we will only be as strong as our weakest child.

A version of Charles’ story first ran in Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes newsletter. You can find it here.