Chalk Talk – May 3, 2020 Roz McCarthy
Schools and community band together to feed the children.One a typical day, more than 50% of Norwalk’s children get free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunch at school. But since schools closed in March, Mom and Dad must provide an additional 10 meals a week for one child, 20 meals a week for two children, 30 meals a week for three children. And Mom or Dad may be one of the 30 million people now without a job. The children, however, still need to be fed.
The school system is doing its part: since March 13, more than 158,000 meals have been distributed to feed the children.
Still, food is the most urgent need during this COVID-19 crisis, according to Paula Palermo, Data Director of Norwalk ACTS.
“We need a food czar to deal with this problem here and now,” she said. Until then, however, ordinary people are finding ways to help their struggling neighbors. Every Thursday afternoon, between 1-3 pm, Ponus Ridge MS Principal Damon Lewis and Assistant Principal Evan Byron hand out bags of food to parents who drive up to the school. Most parents stop first at the tent where Marie Robinson, Food Services Manager at Ponus Ridge, hands out 100 free breakfasts and lunches per day, and then they drive closer to the school where Lewis and Byron are stationed.
In a steady stream, cars approach Lewis and Byron, whose car trunks are full of bags of food. With big greetings and smiles, Lewis and Byron hand the bags to the parents. “They like seeing us,” said Lewis. “They often say bless you and want to tell us about their kids.” Two hours later, 100 bags of food have been given out.
The food is provided by Filling in the Blanks, (www.fillingintheblanks.org) a non-profit organization founded by Shawnee Knight and her partner Tina Kramer. Started in their home in 2013 as a volunteer activity, Filling in the Blanks now has a warehouse in Norwalk and three paid employees. They distribute more than 2400 bags of food per week.
“There should not be hungry kids in our communities,” said Knight. Her mission is to provide food for the weekends, when there is no school lunch. Each bag of food contains two breakfasts, two lunches, four snacks, and some canned vegetables, rice or beans. She said there are more than 32,000 hungry kids in Fairfield County, and she worries about not finding everybody who needs help. “I tell people we have food. Let us know what you need, and we will be there,” she said.