PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Elizabeth Leib eagerly loaded a school bus with boxes of food. Masked and gloved, she, along with a few other volunteers stocked five Pinellas County school buses with free meals for kids in Clearwater.
“I’ve gotten my workout and for a good cause,” joked Leib after lifting heavy boxes filled with non-perishable items and some fresh produce.
Many students are missing out on meals that would have been served to them in school cafeterias. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many families to make the decision to stay home or return to a traditional school setting. Families who opted to keep students away from school buildings needed to supplement those lost meals.
“Most of the kids being served through this program or the children who are staying home doing virtual school during the pandemic,” said RCS Pinellas Chief Operating Officer Melinda Perry. “So far for this program, we think we’ve served about 5,000 meals to children in the Clearwater area.”
That is a lot of food. That means RCS, a food pantry serving 130,000 people or more per year, needs a lot of volunteers to make deliveries. That’s why Leib got involved.
“Any idea of kids being hungry while they are trying to learn is just, well, it’s just too much to think about without doing something about it,” she said.
Wednesday was her first volunteer experience for Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger (TBNEH), a tri-county leader in hunger relief, research and program development. TBNEH has been seeking volunteers to help deliver food for Meals On Wheels for Kids in Pinellas County.
“Volunteer drivers are greatly needed in Pinellas County to help deliver on Mondays and Wednesdays out of Daystar Life Center (St. Petersburg), Catherine Hickman Theater (Gulfport), and RCS Pinellas Food Bank (Clearwater),” TBNEH announced. “Routes take about 60-90 minutes to complete. Volunteers can also sign up to help pack boxes of shelf-stable food on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.”
Volunteers are asked to sign up by visiting www.mealsonwheelsforkids.org.
The mission is important to Leib, who ran non-profit teaching kids how to garden for seven years.
“Absolutely, absolutely. It is very satisfying,” she said after completing her route on Wednesday. “(I) waved and spoke with the families. They were all very appreciative and thankful and it felt great to be able to do that and that’s the reward the volunteer gets when you give your time to make the world a better place.”
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