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Cape Cod is a well-known tourist destination with beautiful beaches and an abundance of New England charm. But these also can mask the extent of food insecurity among school-aged children, explains Executive Director Tammy Leone. Through the Bloomin’ 4 Good and Community Bag programs, Stop & Shop has donated more than $2,000 to Cape Kid Meals.

Tell us about Cape Kid Meals.

The mission of Cape Kid Meals is to mobilize caring people and communities to provide food over the weekend to school-aged children across the Cape who otherwise might go hungry.

Cape Kid Meals was created in 2014 by co-founders Pastor David Johnson and David Byrnes of Grace Church. They started the program after hearing about children coming to school hungry after the weekend.

Due to the resort nature of Cape Cod and high cost of living, many families are faced with seasonal poverty as jobs related to tourism, and other seasonal work are reduced or non-existent during the winter months. Many families with children have annual incomes at or below the poverty level and often lack access to enough food. To partially meet the needs of the children, most schools on the Cape offer both free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs. However, on the weekends or during vacations, children often go without adequate food. Frequently the children return to school hungry and as a result have difficulty learning.

Cape Kid Meals began the program in Dennis at two schools, delivering individual, pre-packaged bags of food that were discreetly placed into the child’s backpack before weekend dismissal.

The program has expanded and now serves close to 800 children each week in 27 schools across the Cape.

A key focus area of Cape Kid Meals is partnering with other organizations that may be able to provide additional support to families. We make it a point to try and share information with our partner schools on additional resources that families may benefit from. We also take advantage of any opportunity to distribute additional food resources that come available.

What are your most essential services?

Our organization focuses on weekend food for children at risk of being hungry when school meals are not available.

Our organization focuses on weekend food for children at risk of being hungry when school meals are not available.

The service we provide is sending home food over the weekend, so children return to school ready to learn and engage. Volunteers pack the food bags weekly for each school. The food bags are delivered to school by Friday morning. Social workers and/or teachers at each school put the bags into the child’s backpack before weekend dismissal. The entire process is confidential and only the school personnel know which students are receiving the bags.

Tell us a story that clearly illustrates the good work you are doing.

Through the years we have received feedback directly from families and from our partner schools of how much our weekend bag has helped, especially knowing it is going to be there each and every week. We had a parent come up to us when we had a table at an event and shared how grateful he was that his children were receiving the bags. He said they were struggling financially, and the worst part was having to tell his kids they did not have enough food. Since he has three children each child takes home a bag which he said was incredibly helpful for them.

He said they were struggling financially, and the worst part was having to tell his kids they did not have enough food.

What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?

We are most proud of the fact that we have expanded so rapidly without any hiccups in distribution. Also, during COVID when schools closed down, we were able to quickly adapt a new model and delivered the very first week of school closures.

What do you want people to know about Cape Kids Meals?

First that the entire program is confidential. The guidance counselors at each participating school work with the school nurse and teacher(s) to identify the children. Typically, these children are on the free breakfast and lunch programs at their schools, however that is not a requirement. There are no requirements to participate.

Next key point we like to share is that we want to provide food children will eat but also be mindful of what we include. We work with a registered dietitian nutritionist on the contents of the bags. The food bag intends to replace the breakfast and lunch the children receive Monday through Friday at school along with healthy snacks. Cape Kid Meals provides two breakfast and two lunch items, milk, juice, six healthy snacks and two pieces of fresh fruit. All items are shelf-stable and easy to open and prepare regardless of the child’s living situation.

Last and most important to our success is that we have an incredibly dedicated group of volunteers that pack, shop and deliver each week. This entails packing hundreds of bags, breaking down boxes, restocking shelves, meeting delivery trucks and unloading, regardless of the weather. They are the most dedicated group, and we are so grateful, it is hard to put into words. Simply put, we could not exist without them.

We rely solely on generous donations and grants to be able to continue the work we do.

How will you use the funds raised from Stop & Shop’s Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good programs?

These funds will be used to purchase food for the weekend bags and help us to continue expanding to serve more children.

Executive Director Tammy Leone is passionate about the importance of growing kids getting the food they need. She seeks partnerships with organizations to work together to identify solutions that combat food insecurity and provide food resources in a thoughtful manner.