A chance encounter in a Salt Lake City Hyatt hotel led Suzanne Meyer to For the Kids, a nonprofit that provides food for children at local Title I schools to take home over the weekend. Inspired by their message, Suzanne became their first volunteer, working out of a supply closet to sort and fill bags of food for 75 kids. Seven years later, For the Kids now provides 600 meals a week to two schools, and has numerous volunteers that Suzanne helps organize not from a supply closet, but from the nonprofit’s own office.
For the Kids also helps provide meals for the whole family during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and was able to provide some extra food over the summer during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, For the Kids served Thanksgiving dinner to 925 families from three different schools. In the seven years that For the Kids has been providing food, studies have shown that the kids’ test scores have increased due to being able to focus on their studies rather than where they will get their next meal.
Describe your volunteer role with For the Kids.
I’ve been with them for almost seven years now. I started out before it was For the Kids, when the director did it out of her own office. We fill bags of food. We started sponsoring with one, and we’re now up to two Title I schools in Salt Lake City. We give bags of food to kids in need to last them through the weekend. They’ll have two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks. We started with 75 kids when I started, and we’re up to 600 kids now. I started being the only one filling the bags, sorting them by grade level, and bringing them to the school. We now have an army of volunteers who help us out, so I don’t do as much of the sorting. I’m now organizing the volunteers to do the sorting. I also am involved with fundraising, calling to try to get people to donate, and then picking up the donations.
What first inspired you to start volunteering with For the Kids?
It was funny, I fell into this charity. We had moved here to Salt Lake seven years ago and while we were house hunting, our kids came to visit and stayed in a hotel. The director of my charity worked at that hotel and was having a small fundraiser. I stumbled upon it and spent some money, and I thought, ‘Well, I could do more than just spend some money at a fundraiser.’ She told me what she did, I asked her if I could help in anyway, and she said sure. I was her first volunteer and at that time, there were just three of us working. I was born to a solidly middle-class family and I wanted for nothing. I’m in a nice house now. We have secure jobs. I have what I need, and there’s so many people out there that don’t. It makes me feel good to know in a small way, I can change a few peoples’ lives.
Can you talk about the importance of these kids having that access to food over the weekend?
It’s hugely important and it’s not just truly the weekend. The teachers were saying some of these kids were coming back on Monday and you could hear their stomachs rumbling. They can’t concentrate on learning when they’re thinking about how hungry they are. We have seen in studies that since we’ve been doing this in the past seven years, their test grades have gone up, up, up, because that’s one less worry for these kids. They can eat, they don’t have to worry about being hungry, and they can concentrate on being able to read a book at home or being able to do their homework. Kids have so much to worry about in the modern world. The last thing they need to worry about it whether or not they’re hungry.
What has it been like to see For the Kids grow so exponentially over the years?
It’s pretty unbelievable. When I started, I was working out of a storage closet in a Hyatt downtown, barely room for two people in this little closet, and putting bags together. We now have a small office space that’s been given to us at a good price where we’ve just got buckets and buckets of food. Every time we add more kids I’m amazed, and we do it. I can’t believe that it’s as big now as it is from when I started with it. It really is amazing.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
I don’t interact with the kids very much. We just deliver the food outside their classrooms and walk away and don’t see them. But every once in awhile when you’re in the school and you’re carrying the blue bags through the hallways, they look at you and go, “You’re the food lady!” and they get very excited. Knowing that these kids look at us and go, “Oh, you’re helping me,” that’s been very fun — to see the kids smile, see the kids excited about it.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think community is the building block of our society. You help those around you, particularly nowadays when people are not living near their families anymore. When my parents grew up, you didn’t move more than 20 miles away from your family. Nowadays, a lot of people, their community is everybody they live with but not necessarily their family. You need to rely on your community sometimes because your family is not there. If you have a strong community, then that radiates out. Then you have strong communities get together, and before you know, you have a very strong society. But you have to start at the base.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
To be hopeful. There is always somebody out there who is going to help you. You maybe need to look for it, but you’re not alone. There are people out there who will catch you when you fall. They are there for you. You’re not alone.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Suzanne? Find local volunteer opportunities.