Caring for Community

Back in May 2016 we interviewed a relatively new nonprofit called FILLING IN THE BLANKS (FITB). The organization was founded by New Canaan’s SHAWNEE KNIGHT and TINA KRAMER. Their mission was to help fight childhood hunger by providing weekend meals to children in need who qualified for government-funded lunch programs. In their third year of operation, they were serving five Stamford schools and proudly shared that they had packed 6,800 bags of food in their New Canaan distribution facility.

Fast forward to 2024. While FITB’ mission is still very much the same, the impact they have had in the last eight years is immeasurable. In 2023, they delivered more than one million meals that were packed in their Norwalk headquarters, serving 6,500 children at 200-plus sites. Along with those staggering statistics, FITB’ services have grown to include far more than providing weekend meals.

In addition to a major warehouse expansion, FITB also recently introduced a new mobile food pantry that allows them to bring fresh food directly to low-income neighborhoods. The mobile food pantry is something Knight and Kramer had dreamed about for a long time and, thanks to the generosity of television producer (and part-time Connecticut resident) Shonda Rhimes and the Rhimes Foundation, that dream became a reality this past fall.

Since launching the mobile food pantry initiative in October, Filling in the Blanks has held two community distribution events each month—one in Norwalk and one in Stamford. At a recent visit to one of these events, I watched as volunteers packed bags with milk, vegetables and fruits for families who were lined up around the block. “The food that we send the kids home from school with is all shelf-stable,” says Knight. “This complements that program with fresh food and allows us to provide more food for the whole family.”

Even this new initiative is quickly surpassing what Knight and Kramer had imagined. They recently partnered with Stamford Health and Norwalk Hospital to educate families on free health and human services available, like the Husky Health Program and free flu shots and mammograms. “These events have really become a day out for the families, in a dignified way,” says Kramer, noting that donations from companies like Henkel and Cain Management (owners of local Dunkin’ locations) have allowed them to distribute more than just fresh food.

January’s mobile food pantry events served 350 families in Stamford and 331 families in Norwalk. These are impressive numbers considering the program was in its fourth month. As with most things Knight and Kramer set their minds to, it is a well-organized operation.

BY THE NUMBERS

76% of teachers
saw a decrease in academic performance due to the negative effects of food insecurity

1 of every 9
children in Connecticut lives in a household without constant access to food

30 million
children rely on free or reduced-price lunches for their nutritional needs on an average school day

HUNGER SYMPTOMS
headaches, irritability, nausea or disruptive behavior

Of course, none of this would be possible without the generosity of FITB’ supporters—particularly corporate sponsors, who provide the essential financial needs, but they also volunteer at private food-packing events for employees. The opportunity for people to be hands-on in FITB’ mission is something that really makes the nonprofit unique.

When Knight and Kramer initially had the idea for FITB, they were looking for an impactful way they could give back while also involving their children—so offering volunteer opportunities for kids of all ages has always been important to them. They are often hosting packing events for schools or community organizations. There is even a program called Food4Kids that allows smaller children to get involved from home, by decorating and packing snack bags to help supplement the meal bags FITB distributes at the schools.

There are other ways to support FITB beyond packing and distribution events—like the SOUPer Bowl Drive and Holiday Backpack programs, the Unite to Fight 5K Run/Walk (and Fun Run), plus the annual golf outing and Plates with a Purpose gala event (see page 56). As the FITB’ website so perfectly says, “Childhood hunger is a problem we can tackle together!”

Visit fillingintheblanks.org for more information on their events, volunteer opportunities or to become a sponsor.

 

 

 

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