Twenty years ago, I began volunteering at the school breakfast program at my kids’ school. I was an “inaugural” volunteer, there for the very first day the program commenced. In the beginning it was hard to get volunteers and the program was in danger of shutting down unless we could find more people to help. So I went to my church and asked for help and they came. They literally saved the Breakfast Club from dying that first year, and some of the volunteers ended up staying on for years – one of them still comes in every Wednesday as he has been doing for the last 19 years.
But the real hero of this program is my mom.
I’ve written about this before, how I asked my mom if she could come help out on Mondays when we were shortest on help…and she ended up running the whole thing!
My mom is a born leader, very organized and has a way of being able to get people to all pull in the same direction. She’s inspiring, that’s all I can say! She brings out the best in others.
A couple of years ago she attempted to “retire”. She deserves to. She’s now 77 years old and she’s legally blind to boot. How she is able to do all she does, I’ll never know! But within weeks of her stepping down as coordinator, the program began to fall apart without her leadership…so she went back.
I stopped volunteering there regularly years ago, but for the last year, I’ve been helping out again, working with her to transition her out. I know my mom, and I know how much “her kids” mean to her – she worries that if she leaves, the program will fold. When she leaves, she wants to know that the program will be in good hands. And do you know who she trusts? Me. Heh.
Now as far as running the day-to-day program goes, that’s a snap. It’s no different than running a restaurant, really, except all the customers are kids! It’s the behind the scenes stuff – recruiting volunteers, fundraising, publicizing the program – that’s the stuff that makes me a bit nervous. However, there’s a lady at the school who’s fantastic at that kind of stuff, and she’s agreed to split the coordinator duties with me – I’ll do the day-to-day operational stuff and she’ll do the behind the scenes stuff, with one exception – she won’t do any public speaking. But that’s ok, I’m entirely comfortable doing that.
Earlier this year, we had a fight on our hands to keep the program operating as it has been for the last two decades. All of the other schools in this area that run breakfast programs are using a provincially funded “box” program. Basically, they offer 3 food choices each morning, something easy that the kids can just grab out of a bin. So one morning they might offer a bagel, a banana and a yogurt. The next day, an apple, some cheese and muffins. Like that. It’s a much easier program to run, especially if you are short of volunteers, which seems to be the primary reason that schools end up moving to it – it’s hard to get and keep the number of volunteers needed to run a program like ours. And there’s nothing wrong with doing it that way; it fills a need; but our program is so much more!
From the beginning, the philosophy of the The Breakfast Club has been community. It was very important to my mom that the program not be stigmatized as being for “poor” people. It’s a community service and all are welcome. Moms and dads and little brothers and sisters are all welcome to join their school aged children for breakfast, and they do!
This program is so much more than simply feeding hungry tummies! There is a need for that, for sure – there is a lot of food insecurity in this area, families that depend on food distribution programs to feed themselves – but there are other great needs as well. Some of these kids come from pretty chaotic homes, with mom’s and dads struggling with more than just financial concerns. The Breakfast Club doesn’t just help them stretch their food budget, it helps them stretch their emotional resources as well. We are here to help them get through those crazy mornings when nothing has gone right and everything (in the moment) seems to be falling apart at the seams. The goal is to help families set their kids up for successful learning each day.
So each morning, volunteers arrive at the school well before 8 am to prepare breakfast and set up tables and chairs in the gym. At 8 am we open the doors and families begin to straggle in. Breakfast is not served until 8:30, so we have games and crafts set up in the back of the gym to keep them occupied until serving time. Just opening the doors 30 minutes early is a tremendous help for parents who need to leave for work and otherwise wouldn’t be able to do so because they lack child care.
At 8:30, everybody lines up for breakfast. There’s an assortment of cold cereals, a fresh fruit tray, milk, juice and bagels with toppings, a hot food choice (which rotates each day), yogurt, cheese and whatever other goodies we can get our hands on. The kids move through the line and choose their breakfast and then head to the tables to eat together. That’s when the real fun starts, lol.
We supervise these kids very closely, encouraging them to use good and proper manners with each other, teaching them table etiquette, really. Wasting food is strongly discouraged. All the kids are required to clear their places when they are finished and bring their dirty dishes to the busbin for washing later. Then they may go back to the craft and game tables to play for a while until 9:10 when they are dismissed for their classes. All the crafts and games must be picked up and returned to their shelves before anyone may leave. The rule is, if you played, you clean until it’s done.
There’s so much more going on here than feeding kids breakfast. Little things, but important things. Everyday there are opportunities to model and reinforce life skills – virtues, even – the importance of kindness to others, being a good steward of the gifts you have been given, taking responsibility for yourself and your actions, showing respect to those in authority over them – there are so many little ways each day that were teaching them how to live in community with on another.
Consider this – some of these kids will be coming for breakfast, day after day, for the next eight years. That’s a significant amount of time to be an influence on a young life.
You know, whenever the kids find out that their beloved Nancy is my mom, they all look at me with awe. Nancy is your mom? You’re so lucky!
This is the kind of influence my mom has on these kids. The worst off of them have respect for no one, but they respect my mom. They adore her.
That’s a heck of a legacy to follow. I don’t think the current school administration fully understands what my mom has managed to do here. The principals come and go so quickly they never really get to appreciate the larger impact it’s having. Some of the kids who attended the program back in the day now come back when they’re in high school to put in volunteer hours themselves.
This is worthy work to do.
My main reason for sharing all this is to humbly ask you to pray for me, and for the work of the Breakfast Club. This is a significant commitment for me – if I’m going to to this (and I am) then I have to be in it for the long haul. Please pray that the Lord would direct my ways and strengthen me when my commitment wavers, and that above all He would use all our efforts for the glory of his kingdom.