Milford church aims to feed kids over weekends
MILFORD >> Members of the First United Church of Christ, Congregational, have undertaken a ministry that’s close to home and hearts: sending food home for the weekend to students who may go hungry without the free or reduced-price lunch provided in their schools.
The church’s Food 2 Kids program serves a relatively small number of children, but that may eventually reach about 180.
“But if you’re that kid who is hungry, it’s a big deal to you,” said the Rev. Ashley Grant, the associate pastor.
“We’re really talking about food insecurity,” Grant said.
Grant got the idea for Food 2 Kids from her mother, a retired teacher, who told her about such a program in her Georgia community.
Grant spoke with the principal at her child’s school, and after learning there was a need, brought the idea to the church, whose members embraced the concept.
They started with a pilot at two schools in February, sending easy-to-prepare, kid-friendly meals and snacks home on Fridays to last until Monday mornings with the kids identified as being in need.
After the successful pilot, they put the program out to all eight elementary schools. Then, because of “generous” donations, Grant said, they were able to add the two middle schools.
After the winter break they will add Jonathan Law and Foran high schools, as well as an alternative high school.
The pilot started with 26 kids served and before this recent winter break, the ministry packed 126 bags of food. They sent kids home with 11,500 pounds of food this fiscal year, she said.
The program is wonderful, she said, because kids without enough food for the weekend experience anxiety.
Grant directs the program with Michele Steinlauf, the church’s outreach chairwoman.
Steinlauf said the idea resonated with her, in part because many years ago, she and her husband adopted a 2-year-old daughter who among other issues, came from a home with food insecurity. That little girl is now a college student.
Steinlauf said she’s heard many people say, “C’mon, this is Milford, there are no kids hungry,” but that isn’t the case.
Milford doesn’t receive state or federal funding to provide food for kids because the numbers aren’t high enough.
“You never really know what the needs are in people’s homes,” she said.
Thanks to the generosity of donors and of fundraisers such as The Milford Bank, the program is sustainable, which is important. “You can’t feed kids for a couple of months,” then tell them it’s over, she said.
The outpouring of support from the community, including companies that donate services, make “my heart swell,” Steinlauf said.
United Way of Milford recently donated money for the group to launch a website.
Grant said a strong team of volunteers gathers Thursdays to assemble bags. The program has “brought the community together,” she said.
The bags include microwavable meals that a 5-year-old can make, juice, oatmeal and shelf-friendly milk.
Mayor Benjamin G. Blake, who has been extremely supportive of the program, according to Grant, called the organization “terrific.”
It is “dedicated to a very basic mission: ensuring all our kids have food to eat,” Blake said.
“I’ve been so impressed with and grateful for the good work of these volunteers who took up this cause and help to address this very real need in our ‘Small City with a Big Heart,’” Blake said.
New Haven has a program through Connecticut Food Bank, which assembles food in some 3,500 backpacks for the weekend, Grant said, but in communities such as Milford where the need doesn’t meet the threshold, it’s up to locals to fill the need.
Grant said they purchase food through Connecticut Food Bank because they can get more for the money, but they rely on donations to buy the food.
Donations of every amount are welcome, because it all adds up. A $240 sponsorship will take care of one child’s food for the 40-week school year. A donation of $7 covers a weekend of food.
Food donations may be brought to Big Smiles Pediatric Dental, 321 Boston Post Road, for storage.
The list of food needed is on the church website and includes Chef Boyardee products, macaroni and cheese, cereal, cereal bars, granola bars, fruit juice, fruit cups, raisins, snacks, peanut butter, jelly, oatmeal and milk.
Monetary donations can be sent to the church at 34 W. Main St., Milford 06460.