With the advent of the COVID pandemic, all schools transitioned to remote learning. As a result, many millions of children from low-income families or families experiencing joblessness, lost an important source of food – school breakfast and  lunches. According to new estimates, one in six children in the U.S. are likely to experience food insecurity in 2021. In March 2020, SPEF (Stamford Public Education Foundation) decided to support Stamford Public School District’s ‘Grab and Go Meals’ program designed to address the issue of childhood hunger. SPEF recruited and organized a roster of volunteers at 10 different sites to help distribute meals to students from food insecure families throughout the Stamford community. Meals were provided by a professional food supply company that worked with the public school system.

A few members of the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Norwalk, CT participated in the 'Grab and Go Meals' project. Three Sai volunteers managed a large site – the Boys & Girls Club of Yerwood – that distributed about 80 to 100 meals daily. Two Young Adults (YAs) joined the Center Service Coordinator three days a week, volunteering about 4 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the course of the 6-month program. The tasks included unloading the packed meals, water bottles and fruits from the catering trucks; organizing, identifying and labeling the boxes as breakfast, lunch or dinner; distributing the meals to the families and keeping count of the quantity given; cleaning the facility after the distribution; packing the leftovers for redistribution and sending the final report to the Stamford city office for their records.

The Service Coordinator reflected on their experience: “It was a challenging program in the initial few weeks – ensuring the delivery was on time, dealing with long lines of waiting parents, getting them to be socially distant and wearing masks during the height of pandemic. But with God’s grace, everything worked out smoothly and there was never a shortage of food. It was very gratifying to know that we were able to fill a huge void – a lack of volunteers due to fear of the pandemic and the inconvenient weekday timings. We were able to manage this large site for the entire 6-month duration without any disruption.”

The ‘Grab and Go Meals’ program made a significant impact on the lives of students and their families. Thanks to the volunteers, students could get a steady supply of meals all through the week by visiting the distribution sites on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. From April through September 2020, over 60 volunteers from various groups worked with SPEF at 10 different sites and contributed nearly 2,000 volunteer hours to help distribute 434,000 meals to the most needy children within the community.