“Sharing is Caring: Engaging the Next Generation of Hunger Relief Experts”

The genesis of KidsCare2 and the special volunteers who were inspired by their grandchildren to engage our community’s youth

Written by: Nancy Couch, Loaves & Fishes Volunteer Leader and Community Advocate

Jim and Patrice Lia

It is late on a Monday afternoon when the market and warehouse are quiet. Sorting and stocking volunteers have finished for the day, and there are no clients shopping. All is tranquil aside from two volunteers who are busy preparing for an hour of controlled chaos. The calm is interrupted as 12 bubbling girls filter into the waiting area, excited for the opportunity to join the fun that Loaves & Fishes’ volunteers experience on a daily basis. And there is no one better to navigate this adventure than Patrice and Jim Lia, long-time volunteers, who helped bring the Kids Care2 initiative to life.
Today, the Lias are creating Child Nutrition bags with an enthusiastic troop of second grade Brownies. It is immediately evident that they have done this many times and are a great team. After staging the items and preparing sample meal bags, the Lias proceed to the waiting room to greet the children and accompanying parents with bright smiles and a clear strategy: teach these young community members about local food insecurity in a fun and memorable way.
Patrice, a former teacher, asks the Brownies about their own breakfasts this morning. Hands shoot toward the ceiling as the kids call out their answers, ranging from PopTarts and pancakes, to oatmeal and fruit. “Good nutrition provides fuel for the young mind,” Patrice explains to the group. She has the Brownies turn their attention to the pictures that adorn the walls of the waiting area. The faces of Loaves & Fishes’ clients smile back at the Brownies as Patrice goes on to share that “these are the people you will be helping today, many of them are kids just like you. The first step in fighting hunger is to learn about what you can do!”
The genesis of Kids Care2 began in 2013 with a simple question from the Lia’s grandchildren, “What do you do at Loaves and Fishes?” Patrice and Jim decided immediately that they wanted to develop an opportunity for children to have a Loaves & Fishes experience. The first step was adding birthday parties in 2013 for kids between the ages of 6 to 12. The Lias lead interactive activities, such as a scavenger hunt, shopping spree and “Name that Food!” game, to entertain guests and promote education while parents supplied the party food and materials to deliver a memorable birthday experience. The pilot was a success, but there was still a need for accommodating larger groups that focused on service. By 2014, Kids Care2 was in full swing, offering kids ages 6+ an opportunity to get directly involved in Loaves & Fishes volunteer work in groups of 6-12. As the demand increased, the Lias expanded the initiative to Mondays and Fridays in order to welcome more scouts, troops, teams and youth groups who spend an hour doing hand-on activities that benefit the community.
The Brownies are now led through the grocery market by the Lias, stopping along the way to learn some fun facts about Loaves & Fishes and the services the organization offers. At one point, Patrice selects girls to represent Proteins, Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Dairy, as she delivers a lesson on nutrition and discusses how the girls can make smart food choices of their own. The girls proceed to the warehouse where they are given instructions on how to assemble the Child Nutrition bags that they saw in the grocery market. The “work” begins, yet the energy among the Brownies suggests that this somewhat repetitive task is viewed more as a lively game of “how many people can we feed?” Patrice and Jim encourage the group to enjoy their time while using every opportunity to teach about food insecurity.
Supplies begin to run low, and Jim announces, “It’s time to wrap things up!” The accompanying parents count the finished product, and everyone cheers for the 140 completed bags. Before they leave though, the Lias take the girls back to the Child Nutrition area of the grocery market. “I want you to remember that because of your hard work today, children who might have had to skip a meal won’t have to, so you should feel very good about yourselves,” Jim points out to the group. The girls are then asked to take one bag and place it on an empty shelf, cementing their new roles as hunger-relief volunteers.
It is evident that this is a labor of love for the Lias. As Patrice explains, “What we enjoy most about the initiative is the look of accomplishment we see in the children’s eyes after they have completed the service project and look upon their work. Without exception, we feel that each and every child leaves Kids Care2 feeling that they have had a memorable experience.”
Kids Care2 events have been a cornerstone in helping spread the word about food insecurity in the community, as both kids and parents alike are able to learn about how the issue impacts local families and how they can be part of the solution. Recently, Meadow Glens Elementary School’s “Brain Buddies” and their parents participated in this initiative by packing supplemental meals for seniors and stocking market shelves. “Our students were able to learn about the community that they are living in, give back, while also continuing to build partnerships through the peer mentoring program,” wrote teacher Julianne LeFleur after her experience. “We saw immediate results in our students. They were discussing their experiences and how much they enjoyed their time. We believe that you allowed these children to believe in becoming community contributors. We also had positive feedback from our parents on them wanting to volunteer their own time, while also seeing the growth in their own children.”
It is truly a rewarding experience for Loaves & Fishes’ grocery market volunteers to see the smiles as client families choose Child Nutrition bags from the shelves. The moment is even more touching when considering the excitement that the Brownie’s and other Kids Care2 participants expressed while packing these bags will be shared when the bags arrive at a client’s home. There is nothing quite like kids making a difference for other kids and families.