Since COVID-19 struck our city, the fence has fallen. Need flooded through the community, finding people who never counted themselves among the vulnerable suddenly crushed by the wave. For years, these programs have performed Herculean feats of flexibility to ensure that their donations stretched to provide every bite of food possible for those in need. This month, The Reader reached out to several organizers to discuss the efforts being made to continue serving a community in unprecedented crisis.
2566 St. Mary’s Ave
An organization approaching 100 years of service is difficult to trip up, and Completely Kids has proven no exception. The team has worked tirelessly to meet the social, educational and nutritional needs of the community for years. They weren’t going to let anything as trivial as a global pandemic stop them when they were needed most.
Adrielle Griffin has served as the Chief Marketing and Development Officer for CK since 2012. We caught up as she worked remotely from home, out of breath from the effort of the nearly full-term baby wedged into her ribcage and preparing snacks for her stepson. Even as she journeys through the unpredictable final trimester of her pregnancy, she aims her focus on Completely Kids and preparing the team for whatever the coming weeks may bring.
“Our final day of being able to work in-office was March 13,” she said. “We all thought this would last a few weeks, maybe a month. Nobody anticipated working remotely for several months, but luckily our team has always been very adaptable. Sometimes the guidelines for how we are able to serve are changing daily. We don’t know what the school year is going to look like, and so we’re just preparing to have several answers ready for our families.”
Completely Kids has served families not only with educational programs, but with the much-needed nutrition some families can’t access without the school lunch program.
“Initially, we were concerned about how to provide nutrition. Traditionally, kids are getting breakfast and lunch at school, then coming to our after-school program where they were having a snack, and then taking home a bag of groceries for the weekend. Suddenly, these kids are losing three meals a day, and we weren’t sure how we were going to supply them with enough in their take-home bags to accommodate this.”
Griffin has glowing words for each member of the staff and Completely Kids’ volunteer force, but makes no hesitation pointing the finger directly at Food Bank for the Heartland.
“They immediately stepped up,” she said. “That first Friday we distributed 200 bags of food from Food Bank for the Heartland. We couldn’t have done that without them at all. Soon, we saw that number increase, and we were able to crunch a lot of numbers and reorganize a lot of things. Our CEO was having conversations with donors, who came back right away saying ‘Just let us know what you need, we will always take care of you’. Soon we were able to supplement those 200 bags from the Food Bank with 300 bags of our own.”
Once the initial wave of relief passed, the team started to evaluate where people might be falling through the cracks.
“We pretty quickly were able to identify 34 families with significant need, but who didn’t have the transportation to get to our distribution centers. We established no-contact deliveries with a few of our volunteers, giving each a route covering 5-7 of these families.”
Griffin realizes that all decisions being made by the school board about the approach of school days is tentative, and will rely on containing the virus. In spite of this, the team has plans in place to accommodate the proposed 2/3 school week, scheduling “weekend” food bags twice a week to catch everyone on the alternating schedule.
“We’re doing food distribution through the first week in August. And when we get there, we will continue this process of evaluating.”
If you or your family are in need of resources, visit Completely Kids. If you would like to donate your time, talents, or treasures to Completely Kids’ many programs, Donate Now
812 S 24th Street
Together Omaha serves an average of 22,000 households each year, aiding in education, health and wellness and sourcing affordable housing. Their nutrition and food security program ensures that those experiencing need to spend a little less time worrying about feeding their families, allowing that energy to be used finding a workable path to sustainable living.
When COVID-19 threatened to derail the progress families had been making Together, Stephanie Strode and the entire staff dug deeper to find a way to continue serving.
“Right away we started pre-bagging all of the food as fast as we could,” she said. “From start to finish, we were serving 200 families a day. It took all of us bagging, plus doing our regular jobs. We had directors trying to find funds to purchase more food and our crisis managers bagging from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.”
Strode is also quick to single out Food Bank for the Heartland for their quick response and constant support.
“We get all of our food from Food Bank for the Heartland. We wouldn’t know what to do without them. The National Guard has been boxing food for us, freeing us up to source other supplies; diapers, can openers, things these families need.”
When the line of cars arriving for pickup curls around the block and the police arrive to direct traffic, Strode could easily find herself overwhelmed. Instead, she looks at the car in front of her. Allowing each victory to be the one that matters is how these 200 bags of food will go on to feed the 212 cars that show up by the end of the day.
“I want us to be that little bit of hope, that they know they can always come here. I hope that we are able to take this off their shoulders.”
Food Bank for the Heartland
10525 J Street
Communications Manager Angie Grote wastes no time crediting the Food Bank’s partners for their quick action and cooperation with each other and the families being served.
“From March 15 to June 20, Food Bank for the Heartland distributed 11,633,012 meals to Heartland families facing hunger. This is a 61% increase from the same period in 2019. We spent $2.7 million purchasing food in that period, which is up 374% from last year. We couldn’t be responding to this crisis without our partner organizations like Together, North Star, Completely Kids, and Heart Ministries center. We serve 93 counties across Nebraska and Iowa, and we are so grateful for our partners and the work they’re doing to meet this need. They’ve all had to pivot their programs to continue to serve, and they’re all doing it so gracefully.”
When asked the best way to direct our readers to help, Grote insists that they already have.
“There isn’t a lot of good that can be said about this year, but the one thing that we have seen worth keeping is the way the community has stepped up and worked together to make it through. This is a beautiful community filled with people who truly care about their neighbors. We just want it to be known that Food Bank for the Heartland has been serving this community for 39 years, and we are committed to doing all we can to continue serving every day.”
She goes on to encourage readers who are in need of assistance to go to the website and learn about the many resources offered by FBftH.
If you’re in a position to help, donate now at https://donate.foodbankheartland.org.