When Forever Vets Animal Hospital at Murabella had to cancel its holiday party, the employees decided they wanted to donate money that had been saved for the event, but they took time to consider where they would give the funds.
Through word of mouth, Emma Gonzalez, with the vet hospital, heard of First Coast Blessings in a Backpack, and the team agreed that’s where the money would go.
Providing food for dozens of children
“Through that money, they were able to provide food and other essentials for about 40 kids,” said Susan Evans, with Blessings. “It was stuffed with everything. They distributed the bags to kids at four different schools.”
The totes were filled with healthy snacks, school supplies, toys and games.
Evans said it was a wonderful gift for part of a bigger initiative that aims to combat hunger in children all over the nation.
First Coast Blessings
Through First Coast Blessings, Evans feeds almost 5,000 kids each week in the Jacksonville area.
“We partner directly with schools,” she said. “If a guidance counselor says ‘I have a group of kids,’ or ’'all the kids meet criteria,’ then they create program there. We partner with schools who feed kids Monday through Friday -- kids who depend on meals.”
Evans said she considers people like teachers, cafeteria workers and guidance counselors experts.
“They know these children, so when they have a problem, we come,” she said.
The meals are professionally packaged sleeves of food with balanced meals specifically for small children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“They have what they need Monday through Sunday, and it creates a strong safety net for children,” Evans said.
But you must imagine: Feeding nearly 5,000 children each week takes a lot of bodies to get them what they need.
“I’m dealing with principals and school staff who have a lot on their plate,” Evans said.
Before schools shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation went through volunteers, who would handle a large portion of executing the food delivery.
Feeding during a pandemic
“When schools reopened, they didn’t allow any external people on campus,” Evans said. “I had to turn around to the campuses and say: ‘If we are going to keep Blessings at your school, you will have to be our Program Coordinators now, and we will be working directly with you.’ Every single school said yes.”
She said everyone responded with a resounding: “Absolutely. What do we need to do?”
Evans said, on top of the stresses school staff was under, they took the time to work with her and figure out the best way to ensure their students could get the meals they needed.
She went on to highlight how important it is, having those people who are willing to step up and volunteer their time for these kids.
“They are the unsung hero -- especially right now,” Evans said.