By Maddy Vitale
There are 400 children on free lunches in Ocean City schools. So, what happens on the holidays when school is out? Do they still eat nourishing meals, do they go hungry, or eat less healthy?
Susie Stauffer had those questions a few years ago. She went to her friends, fellow volunteers, and school officials, to create a plan to provide grocery bags filled with good foods to take children through Christmas break and spring break.
Stauffer, director of Holiday Helpings, Sarah Lee, co-director of Holiday Helpings, from St. Peter’s Methodist Church and Waves of Caring director Ocean City Fire Chief Jim Smith, joined forces and everything fell into place.
“What do the kids do when there is no school for an extended period of time?” Stauffer asked, explaining her initial thoughts that led to Holiday Helpings. “There are a lot of programs around the country that provide food and I wanted to do the same.”
Ocean City schools helped a lot, Stauffer said. “When I started Holiday Helpings three years ago, I spoke with the principal of the primary school, and the superintendent. District staff tells us how many letters we need prepare and the staff puts the labels on. There is a lot of confidentiality around it.”
The letters went home in November and about 45 families with about 100 children, signed up for the grocery bags. One bag is given per child.
Parents and their children came in to pick up their grocery bags Thursday afternoon at St. Peter’s Methodist Church, 8th Street and Central Avenue. Another pick-up time was scheduled for later in the evening to give more people an opportunity to pick up the food. Volunteers packed up the groceries throughout the week. More than 120 bags lined the tables, filled with soups, macaroni and cheese, pancake mix, canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, a can of raviolis, a loaf of bread and some frozen sandwiches.
Remedios Zurita walked up to the table and gave her phone number. Names are not required for confidentiality purposes. Stauffer handed her a bag of groceries and a loaf of bread and they chatted briefly, before Zurita turned to leave.
“This helps,” Zurita said smiling. “Thank you.”
Volunteer Edgar Rivero acted as a Spanish interpreter Thursday to communicate with some of the people who picked up their groceries.
One woman walked to the church for four bags. Lee, co-director of Holiday Helpings, asked her, through Rivero, if she needed a ride home. The woman said yes. Lee helped her with her bags and gave her a ride home.
Another woman, Enriqueta Ramirez, came to the church to pick up bags of food for her three children. Rivero spoke with her and helped her with her bags.
Lee called the program an “eye opener,” because it shows of a definite need in the community.
“It’s meant to fill that gap for breakfast and lunch, when kids aren’t at school,” Lee explained of the foods given to the children for their school break.
The program couldn’t be a success without the help of St. Peter’s Church and Waves of Caring, Stauffer remarked.
“Jim (Smith) has good resources in town. Now that we are partnered, he has one of the guys drive me out to the foodbank in their big truck. The first few years we had cars to pick up the food,” Stauffer said. “Now we can put everything on a palette. Each bag contains 12 to 14 items and there were 120 bags, so the palette had 1,400 food items on it. That is a lot of food.”
To date, Holiday Helpings has provided 575 bags of food to children in the community between the Christmas and spring breaks.
For more information on the Holiday Helpings organization call 609-277-3885 or email Holidayhelpings@stpoc.org.