Children's Hunger Project offers weekend supplement to kids on school lunch programs

Meet the volunteers who help feed needy kids

COCOA, Fla. – Volunteers with the Children's Hunger Project and the program's director, Keith Gee, are this week's Getting Results Award winners. 

"Does anyone have any questions?" Tim Brown asks. His voice echoes off the glass walls of The Children's Hunger Project in Cocoa.

The building, a former car showroom, is filled with boxes of food stacked 6 feet high. Applesauce, chocolate milk and Chef Boyardee surround the 30 or so people who are listening closely. 

"Everything has a pop-top," Brown said. "Nothing has to be heated."

The volunteers gathered and around listened as he gave them their assignments for the next two hours.

They were there to assemble packages of snacks that will end up in the hands of elementary school students on the Brevard County free and reduced meal plan.

"All right, I need two people with muscles," he said. "You're going to be packing meals and moving the pallets."

According to the Children's Hunger Project, 50 percent of Brevard County students are eligible for the National Free or Reduced Lunch program. These children can get breakfast and lunch at school but go without on the weekends. 

The nonprofit fills that gap with "kid friendly food packages" processed and delivered by a volunteer staff. 

"We're going to do 750 this evening," Brown told the group as they began passing the plastic bags to one another.

Each volunteer adds a couple of items as the bag moves along. When it's full and reaches the end of the line, a smiley face sticker is applied and it's boxed up for delivery. 

Each bag, while full, easily fits inside a backpack.  

The night News 6 was there, most of the people helping were first-time volunteers. Sheena Baker said she was happy to help.

"I think it's for a great cause," she said, as she placed ravioli and applesauce into the clear sealable bags. "I love being able to help."

Nonprofits such as The Children's Hunger project rely on volunteers to make their mission a reality.

"We're a very grass-roots organization," said Keith Gee, executive director of The Children's Hunger Project. "We rely heavily on the local community to support this initiative." 

Gee said the volunteer labor along with the donated and repurposed office space help put more meals in the hands of the children who need them.   

"Families are strapped," he said. "We're here to help those kids that just need that additional nutritional supplement over the weekend. We want to make sure they come to school on Monday ready to be successful."

Each week the organization provides more than 1,600 packages to 41 elementary schools across the county. 

The Children's Hunger Project and Gee were nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by volunteer Bobbi Lasher.

"I wanted you to see our dedicated volunteers. I wanted everyone in Central Florida to know why we're here and how many children are going hungry," Lasher said.

Lasher arrives every Thursday morning to deliver the packages to schools in Northern Brevard County. 

"We all want to feed these children that don't have food from Friday's school lunch to Monday's school breakfast. That's a long time," Lasher said.

About the Author: