As a school secretary, Robin DeLine notices the needs of students who walk into her office — especially the hungry ones. One day she began wondering how she could help those hungry children. “I was like, ‘If I could feed every one of them, I would,’ “ says DeLine, secretary at Beach Elementary School in Cedar Springs.
Five years later, she’s pretty much feeding every one of them. Thanks to her Beach Picnic Basket program, more than 19,000 meals were sent home last year with students from all Cedar Springs schools.
DeLine organizes students and other volunteers to pack the lunches and deliver them to schools. She shops for the food, raises the money to pay for it and makes a lot of sandwiches. She puts in about 20 hours a week to make sure every studentwho needs one has a nutritious meal when he or she gets home from school. “I know we have kids in our district that without it, they will go hungry,” DeLine says. “That’s why I do it.”
Serving a Growing Need
She began the program after consulting with Mary K. Hoodhood of Kids Food Basket, which provides take-home meals for students in greater Grand Rapids and Muskegon. It did not extend into Cedar Springs, so DeLine set up a similar program. “It’s unfortunate, but even in a nice community like ours, we have people who are suffering,” she says.
That’s true of schools nationwide. According to a recent survey by No Kid Hungry, a campaign of the nonprofit Share Our Strength, three of four teachers say they regularly see students who are too hungry to learn.
Although about 55 percent of Cedar Springs students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and breakfast is offered as well, many have little to eat when they go home. DeLine knows of students who save part of their lunches to take home.
Beach Picnic Basket provides bagged meals of sandwiches, nutrition drinks, fruit or vegetable and a sweet. On Fridays, students get an extra meal for Saturday breakfast.
So far this fall, 45 students are receiving meals. DeLine expects that number will grow to match or top the 125 students who received meals last year. Cold weather usually brings an increase, she says: “A lot of families are OK until the heat bills come.”
Others will sign up when a parent loses a job. A homeless family who recently moved into the district was referred to her by a school social worker. By the time they arrived at school, she had meals ready for them.
Volunteers Help, but Funds Needed
Meals are packed by various volunteers. They include students from Region One Transition Services, a post-high school program for students with disabilities; clients of Hope Network; and Cedar Springs High School students doing service work. Volunteers from Woman’s Life, a nonprofit charity, make and pack sandwiches every other week.
Woman’s Life also has offered a $500 matching grant to help with program costs of $3,000 to $5,000 a year, which were paid early on by school staffers and DeLine herself. Financial support since has come from Cedar Springs United Methodist Church and other sources, including a 3K run last spring that raised about $2,000. Bliss-Witters Pike Funeral Home recently provided a grant from The York Group casket company. And the high school volleyball team chipped in $132 and two tables full of food.
“As we are growing, the community is getting a lot more aware and we’re getting more community support,” DeLine says.
Shannon VanderLugt, a Woman’s Life volunteer and mother of five students, says she sees children every day who benefit from Beach Picnic Basket.
“If BPB didn’t pack these bags each day, some of them would go without,” VanderLugt says. “As a mom, that is heartbreaking. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from.”
For DeLine, keeping students from going hungry is key to their school success. “If you give them what they need emotionally and nutritionally, they’ll be ready to learn.”