Trussed up in aprons, hair nets and latex gloves, Andie McBride and Sydney Foresta spent a busy Saturday afternoon in February bagging twisty radiatore pasta noodles.
For the sisters, ages 6 and 9, volunteer time at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina was hardly their idea of a Saturday play date. But the news from their mom that the food could help other kids – and that even some of their friends at school might not have enough to eat – made them stop and think.
By the end, they were having fun, mom Kim Ward said.
“At their ages, they take so much for granted,” Ward said. “I was trying to let them know that there are other people in life besides them.”
Between 150 and 200 participants show up for Kids Day at the food bank facility in Raleigh on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, said Raleigh volunteer coordinator Calvin McCommons. It’s a rare volunteer opportunity for children between the ages of 5 and 12.
And the program does more than provide bonding time and teachable moments for local families and children’s groups – it supplies 25 percent of the volunteers the organization depends on to operate each year.
The program is so popular that only two dates remain for groups to sign up this year: July 14 and August 11. Individual families are free to pitch in any time.
For the two hours, children start with a tour and explanation of the food bank and its mission, then get down to business. Depending on the day, they could be sorting food donations, boxing eggs or bagging pasta noodles as Sydney and Andie did. Children must be accompanied by an adult, but even so, the atmosphere can be hectic at first. But that energy is soon channeled as kids learn that their peers may not always have enough to eat.
“They put their hearts into it,” McCommons said.
In Wake County, about 27,000 children under age 18 don’t know where their next meal is coming from, according to food bank statistics. That’s just over 31 percent.
McCommons estimates that each Kids Day contributes about $4,000 worth of labor to the food bank, which depends on volunteerism for 50 percent of its work hours.
Sydney and Andie will be back to help, their mom says.
“I want them to be passionate about people in need and feel like they can always help somebody out,” Ward said.