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  • Tara Crutchfield

Grace Giving for KidsPACK

A year since its founding, Facebook group Grace Giving for KidsPACK is just shy of 500 members. Its founder and administrator, Lakeland real estate agent Debbie Miller was recently presented with the 2021 Lakeland Realtors Good Neighbor Award. She says it’s the Grace Giving group that earned it, expressing gratitude for members’ unending support totaling thousands of dollars of in-kind food donations to the Lakeland charity, kidsPACK. “When I started Grace Giving, I really believed it was something that had a positive impact for everybody. Not only the group to feed hungry kids, but I think it gave people a good feeling that there’s something positive in the world,” said Miller.


KidsPACK is a nonprofit organization that was started in 2011 by Randy Browning. It operates with the sole mission to feed homeless or under-served students when school is not in session. By working directly with teacher liaisons in schools throughout Polk and Hillsborough Counties, kidsPACK fills the gap for disadvantaged children by providing discrete backpacks with enough food for three meals a day over the weekends. The food in each pack is child-centric and easy to open and prepare as many of the kids they serve do not have access to running water or a microwave. “I’ve been working with kidsPACK since they started, volunteering with them,” said Debbie Miller, who serves as the auction chair for the Gone Country for kidsPACK fundraising event.


Food insecurity and child hunger in the community may seem unfathomable if you or someone you know directly has never been without food. Miller says this is an invisible problem desperately in need of attention and action. When kidsPACK founder Randy Browning first spoke with Miller about child hunger in the community, she remembers thinking, “Who knew that there are this many hungry kids in our community? If you don’t feed the kids, they can’t learn, they can’t focus, and they’re the future of our country. We’ve got to take care of these kids.”



Miller ramped up her volunteering efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic when kidsPACK struggled to secure items in bulk to put into their packs. When we spoke with kidsPACK Executive Director Patty Strickland and Program Manager Amy Royal in August 2020, they were dealing with the temporary loss of 17 packing facilities. The most pressing issue for the Lakeland nonprofit, however, was a suspension of buying power. The nonprofit would typically buy in bulk but no longer could. They scoured Publix, Walmart, Sam’s Club – anywhere they could find bulk items. “Instead of a child’s lunch being $6, it went to being $9.20,” said Strickland last August. They reached out to the community for financial and purchasing help, requesting folks pick up ten cans of Chef Boyardee, Pop-Tarts, or applesauce when they were grocery shopping. “Our community stepped up,” Strickland said.


Miller said, “They were having a hard time getting Chef Boyardee bulk which is the staple food on the kidsPACK every week; there’s two of them on each child’s pack.” She recalled seeing a Facebook group in which members would choose another member at random and send them a gift. Brainstorming ways to help kidsPACK, she wondered if the model could work towards the charity’s advantage. Over coffee with a friend, she decided she would start her group, Grace Giving for KidsPACK. Miller went home that afternoon in August 2020, started the group, and began inviting friends to join.


The group took off with membership and donations. “We had a 4000 [Chef Boyardee] cup goal for the quarter, from August to the end of the year, and we got 4000 cups in a couple of weeks,” said Miller. “Then we set a higher goal to get 16,000 cups, and guess what – we exceed that by December 31, 2020.”


A month after creating the group, Miller posted in Grace Giving for KidsPACK that they had already delivered over 6,300 cups of Chef Boyardee to KidsPACK. “We are 9,674 cups away from our 12,000 cups by 12/25/2020. All of you are so awesome, and we are so grateful you are part of this Grace Giving for KidsPACK. Blessings to all,” the September 25, 2020 post read. Awesome indeed. By the end of that October, they had collectively given over $21K in-kind food to kidsPACK, and by November 9, 2020, they were approaching a new goal of 16,000 cups of Chef Boyardee, which they would go on to surpass.


This year Grace Giving for KidsPACK set quarterly goals and has exceeded them all. The most recent in-kind food figure was reported on September 23, 2020. Miller wrote in part, “I wanted to let everyone know since I created Grace Giving for KidsPACK on Facebook on August 25, 2020, during the pandemic, our group and all the donors have given nearly $40,000 in-kind food to hungry kids in our community, and we are helping to control hunger. We have met and exceeded each goal each quarter because of all of you. There are not adequate words to express my gratitude to each and every one of you who is a part of this amazing group of individuals in our community. Our group is making a significant impact on helping to control hunger in our Elementary Schools. I want to personally thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.”


Miller encourages everyone to spread awareness of childhood hunger and the kidsPACK mission to friends, colleagues, churches, and loved ones. She quoted Mother Teresa, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” Donating one box of Pop-Tarts, one cup of Chef Boyardee, one fruit cup is a step toward eliminating food insecurity and child hunger in the community.


“We want them to be aware that there are people out here that will help you – there is help. […] Our goal is to eventually conquer hunger in our county,” Miller said.


Bridge the gap of food insecurity in Polk County by sponsoring a child through kidsPACK. For $300 a year, or $25 monthly, you can feed a child in our community for an entire year. Ask your friends, coworkers, family, and church to join you!


Grace Giving’s current fourth-quarter goal is to donate 10,000 packs of crackers by the end of the year. Consider joining Grace Giving for KidsPACK on Facebook to make a difference in the lives of local under-served children. To donate, use the Amazon link listed under ‘Announcements’ in the group to order and ship to an approved address or order from Sam’s Club with Debbie Miller listed as the pick-up person. Donations can also be dropped off at United Title Group located at 2000 E Edgewood Dr., Suite 107, Lakeland, FL, 33803. Grace Giving For KidsPACK administrator Debbie Miller can be reached at (863) 581-7817.


Miller noted a quote in the group’s ‘About’ section to drive her point home. “Child hunger is a significant issue that requires active participation to combat its effects on our child population. By our Grace, we can help out kidsPACK by putting into perspective the prevalence of child hunger in our county and community.”


FB: Grace Giving For KidsPACK

Debbie Miller

(863) 581-7817

kidsPACK

3725 Frontage Rd N #1, Lakeland

(863) 272-7927

FB @KidsPACKinc

IG @kidspackinc


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