Normally at this time last year, we’ve set our holiday travel plans and booked restaurants for work parties while telling ourselves we’ll get back on our diets in January. Things are different now. Many are staying home this season, not going to parties, and for a growing number of families across Tampa Bay and the U.S., overeating is hardly a concern.
“We’re up 114% since COVID,” says Gina Wilkins, founder and CEO of The Kind Mouse, a St. Petersburg nonprofit on a mission to feed local children who suffer from chronic hunger and food insecurity, and to assist families in transition.
According to Feeding America, more than 50 million people nationally – including 17 million children – are expected to experience food insecurity in 2020 due to the effects of COVID-19, and that includes 16.9% of the population in Pinellas County. As always, local food banks are stepping in to ensure all families have food on the table, and those operations have ramped up considerably since March. These organizations are vital, as is the demand for support from volunteers who help manage the workload.
Operating out of a 1600-square-foot space off 16th Street North, Wilkins and her team have to be pretty clever and agile to manage sort, pack and distribute the steady stream of donations.
“We’re averaging a ton and a half of food going out the door a week,” she says.
The Kind Mouse leans heavily on its volunteers of all ages, and typically has a small army of regular helpers, including its multi-tiered youth program which, according to its mission, strives “to develop the next generation of community leaders and activists.”
Like any organization, though, that support system can wane at different times of the year. Lots of folks think want to help during the holidays, but “believe it or not, a lot of times January and February are slim,” Wilkins says, adding, “and then, over summer.”
While her young “Mice Interns” and “Mice in Training” as they’re called, turn out all year round, Wilkins says it can be a challenge to fill the adult jobs during the vacation months.
Working with a group like the Kind Mouse does not mean one thing and one thing only. Volunteers work in a variety of needed positions.
“They can help us with the food drives, packing the food and sorting,” Wilkins says, noting that the Holiday Business Food Drive and the Holiday Hotel Drive kick off on November 30 and December 7, respectively.
Maybe packing and sorting isn’t your thing?
“They can even help us with the office work,” Wilkins says. “We also need people to drive the van: to drive and deliver food. That’s a big thing; that’s always hard to find.”
While food banks like the Kind Mouse and St. Petersburg Free Clinic offer volunteer opportunities year-round, cash and food contributions are important as well.
“Besides the 1500 kids we feed on a regular basis weekly,” Wilkins says of one of the Kind Mouse’s current campaigns, “we’re trying to take on another 450 families to send holiday meals.”
Learn how to lend a hand at thekindmouse.org.