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Deena Youngs on Filling the Void: For Connecticut’s Children, and Herself

How do you go from a career in fashion to making a living out of volunteering in schools? That’s only part of the story of Deena Youngs’ unique journey with Filling in the Blanks. A mother of three, Deena came all the way from Southern California to be a style trendsetter in The Big Apple – only to leave it all behind to be home with her children. Since settling down in Fairfield County, Deena has played an important role in the success of Filling in the Blanks.


We caught up with our director of operations to learn more about her.


How did you come across Filling in the Blanks?


I’ve been a close friend of Tina Kramer and Shawnee Knight for years through my various volunteer positions with the organization. My primary volunteer role has been running the auction at our largest fundraiser, the golf outing.


In February of 2020, Tina and Shawnee approached me about coming on to help with FITB’s operations. I joke with them now that they must have had a crystal ball with their timing! Little did we know what was about to happen in March 2020 and the incredible need that FITB would fill for so many families during the pandemic.


Speaking of the pandemic, how has it impacted the way FITB serves families and schools?


Currently we serve 80 schools across 10 towns in CT and NY and feed over 3,000 children weekly. Forty-six of these schools were added since March 2020 which demonstrates the tremendous need in our community.


Logistics can be challenging dealing with so many different schools, each having their own individual rules and protocols. I work with the school staff (primarily principals and social workers) to establish the program details and delivery instructions for our drivers.


During the height of Covid, it was definitely challenging to manage and schedule the deliveries of so many schools because their needs would change weekly due to students being remote, in quarantine, or the school being closed. We remained flexible and committed to accommodate every possible request so that the children in our program would receive their bags each week regardless of the logistical challenges.


How were you able to take an innovative approach to making the deliveries?


Prior to Covid, our delivery drivers were able to bring the bags in our sealed bins into school buildings. This changed during the pandemic and we had to adapt our procedures based on the school’s input and individual needs.


We purchased rolling carts for many of the schools so that their staff could roll them outside when the delivery was being made. The drivers would then load the bags into the carts since they could not be in the building. Thankfully, our weekend meal bags are all heat sealed, stored in secure bins, and packed by volunteers wearing masks and gloves. The safety of the bag and its contents were never called into question during the uncertainty of the early days of Covid. They were always welcomed and appreciated.


What is FITB’s plan for the upcoming school year?


We had hoped to return to our pre-Covid delivery procedures for this fall, but with the surge of the Delta variant and increased cases we anticipate our delivery procedures will be similar to last year. We have wanted to send volunteers into the schools to help distribute bags with the school staff to ease their workload — especially in the larger schools — but the schools are not yet allowing volunteers into the building due to continued safety precautions.


Looking forward, even if safety protocols are more strict due to the Delta variant, the children in our program won’t have to worry about receiving their weekly bags. We have wonderful partners in the schools we serve, and we are all committed to the importance of providing weekly support for students. We will make it work no matter the challenges, and we will deliver bags to every student signed up in our program each and every week.


How much have you enjoyed being a part of FITB?


Filling in the Blanks is a very special place to work. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that every single day the job that we do makes a difference in the lives of children in our area. We are determined to uphold our commitment to them as well as reaching more children in need in Fairfield and Westchester Counties, regardless of what the pandemic brings this year.