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At the Core seeks groups to feed hungry children

Tom Stevenson and Brenna Sloan are recruiting more churches, businesses and family groups to adopt schools.

At the Core and Second Harvest have recruited 120 congregations, businesses and family groups as supporters for the Bite2Go program that provides weekend meals for more than 4,500 hungry Spokane area students in 73 elementary and 35 middle and high schools.

Knowing that 18,000 school children in Eastern Washington and North Idaho communities face weekend hunger, At the Core, which started seven years ago, is ready to recruit more churches, businesses and family groups outside Spokane to feed hungry children over weekends.

Chris and Brenna Sloan, who were active in Timberview Church in North Spokane, started the program in 2014 when the church reached out to Meadowridge Elementary School and asked how they could "be a blessing to the community."

"We asked Debbie Wiechert, the counselor, who said the school had a United Way grant to help them feed children over weekends," said Brenna, program associate for At the Core.  "She asked if we would help with logistics of picking up food from Second Harvest and delivering it to schools.

"We enthusiastically said 'yes' to helping provide weekend food for 15 children on free breakfast and lunch," she said.

After a year, the grant expired and the counselor said the school was unable to continue the program.

By then church members and the youth group wanted to continue doing it. So individuals and families in the church sponsored children for the next school year.

"We loved being able to make an impact on our community. We sponsored 25 children and it grew from there," said Brenna, who graduated with Chris from Shadle Park High School.

She started studies in Bellingham and Chris in Walla Walla. Both finished at Eastern Washington University in 1997, she in teaching and he in marketing. 

Because her family helped "plant" Timberview in 1992, they attended there. The senior pastor encouraged Chris to do online studies with Northwest Nazarene University in 1999 and 2000 and mentored him to be ordained an elder.

After the program was going for a while, Chris talked to pastor colleagues in North Spokane encouraging them to adopt a local school and feed children.

Within two years, four churches adopted local schools.

After three years, they met Tom Stevenson, who retired from the Moss Adams CPA firm in 2011 after 35 years.

When Tom was chair of the Spokane County United Way board in 2013, he went on his own nickel to Amarillo, Texas, to learn about a poverty program.

"It didn't fit Spokane, but I met Dyron Howell who ran a SNACK PAK 4 KIDS program. That program inspired me to think about such a program for Spokane," he said.

On returning, he met with then Spokane school superintendent Shelly Redinger, who said Spokane needed such a program. She referred him to the Sloans to learn what they had been doing for two years in the Mead School District.

He joined them and together they helped nearly 120 churches, businesses and family groups adopt a school.

As the Bite2Go feeding program grew, Chris began working full time at Second Harvest.

At the Core formed as a nonprofit with Tom as volunteer board chair, Brenna as volunteer, Catherine Klingel as program coordinator and a Gonzaga intern.

"Our role is to recruit, inspire and maintain adoptive organizations—businesses, churches and nonprofits—that adopt a school in their neighborhood," Brenna said.

"We are coaches for those organizations," Tom said.  "We make it easy for a group to adopt a school and start the program. Then we support them while they successfully serve a school with little turnover in groups."

The organizations raise funds, pick up food, deliver it and wrap their arms around the school, offering mentoring and tutoring to students, too.

Volunteers from churches and businesses are in the schools each week to deliver the food and often do more.

One church does an "Undie Sunday," collecting socks, underwear and sweatpants for children they sponsored.

At high schools, eligible students use their student number to order food from an online menu. They select a teacher from whom they will pick up their order. Students in the schools' DECA (business) class, leadership class or other group pack the food and take it to the teachers.

"It makes a difference that children are fed over the weekend and they do not return to school Mondays hungry and unable to focus in class," Tom said.

Last year, they were concerned the program would not work because children were not in school. However, many churches, businesses and teachers delivered Bite2Go food directly to children and their families at their homes.

Deliveries dropped from 5,000 to 4,500—3,500 in elementary schools and 1,000 in middle and high schools.

"Realizing we were feeding 20 percent of children on free meals in Spokane and that Second Harvest covers Eastern Washington and North Idaho, we figured there were 18,000 children food insecure in the whole region—another 13,000," Tom said.

"So we want more people to know about Bite2Go in outlying and rural areas," he said. "We are looking for community champions who will help us start the program in their communities."

In October, At the Core is offering opportunities for people to visit Second Harvest, a school and meet with an adoptive church or business to see if the program might be a good fit for their communities.

"We have a wonderful model.  Kids should not be going to school hungry on Mondays," Tom said. "There are many people like me who are retired and seeking something to do.  We are ready to coach more groups to start adopting schools."


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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2021