This year, in honor of Mother’s Day, we are spotlighting our founders, Shawnee Knight and Tina Kramer. Since 2013, the pair has been working hard to ensure children in Connecticut and Westchester County receive access to nutritious meals. Since then, FITB has delivered over one million weekend meals. In addition to their incredible work at Filling in the Blanks, they each have another full-time role — being mothers!
What is one of the best things about motherhood?
Tina: I love hanging out with my kids, even if it's just sitting on their bedroom floor catching up on the day.They are each so different, with unique senses of humor, creativity and compassion, there are no other people I'd like to spend my time with!
Shawnee: For me the best thing about motherhood has been watching my 2 boys grow into young men. It is amazing to see them evolve at each stage in their life.
What is one of the biggest challenges?
Tina: One of the biggest challenges of being a parent is knowing the right answers, kids don't come with a handbook!! There are so many struggles that my children are facing with social media, the pandemic, and life in general and it's an entirely new territory than I experienced as a child. I don't always understand what they are going through but try and give them the tools to work through situations.
Shawnee: The biggest challenge I found was the lack of sleep and constant worrying that comes with parenting.
Speaking of lack of sleep, with all of the demands that come with parenting and running a nonprofit, we wondered how the two have managed to balance both.
Tina: It's a juggling act most days and I have had to learn to create limits for myself and be present in the moment whether it be at home or at the office. Some days that's easier said than done, especially during COVID as there has been no off button.Taking some time for myself, even if it's just an early morning workout, gives me a moment to breathe and feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
Shawnee: I am fortunate that my kids are older now, so I have the extra time, but it is a full-time job and when my kids were younger it was hard. I would have to make sure that I was there to pick them up at school and be there to drive them to after school activities. When we had weekend packing events, they would come with me, and sometimes would help if things had to get done after school. But this gave me an opportunity to teach them about giving back in their community. When we started FITB we wanted to have it be something children could participate in.
With the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in the US over a year ago, a record number of children went hungry this past year due to increased economic hardship for families across the country and a lack of access to in-school nutrition programs. The crisis has elevated the urgency of the work Filling in the Blanks does. Both Shawnee and Tina have noticed the ways by which mothers in particular have been impacted by these unprecedented times.
Shawnee: We have seen more mothers reaching out. We would get emails seeking food assistance and they were primarily mothers. We even expanded the Senior Umbrella when the pandemic started. The majority of the children in our program live in single parent households or live with one grandparent. The children we serve in that program are living with their grandparents, many of whom are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet.
As Shawnee mentioned, of the 3,000+ kids served weekly by Filling in the Blanks, the majority of them live in single parent households or live with one grandparents. The majority of those single parents and grandparents are single mothers and grandmothers, who have experienced unique challenges during the pandemic. Tina spoke about how and why this group inspires her to continue doing the work she does for children in CT.
Tina: I grew up with a single mom and moved in with my grandmother as a teenager. I saw the struggles firsthand of a single parent juggling work and home life. It wasn't always easy, and we struggled at times which is one of the driving forces behind wanting to help my neighbors now that I have the ability to do it.
Happy Mothers Day to all of the mothers we serve as well as the mothers who work with us in the fight against child hunger. Without you, none of this would be possible. If you would like to make a donation on behalf of a mom in your life, visit our donation page here. Thank you!