by Pam Raley
American children have been lining up in school cafeterias for hot lunches for decades, with a number of children eligible for reduced cost lunch. More recently, some school systems have established breakfast programs, recognizing that children arriving at school hungry cannot attend well and learn at their capacity. Dover schools are continuing to meet the needs of children whose home meals are insecure during this public health crisis, with children not always physically in school. School-prepared meals are delivered to specific pick-up locations for five weekdays.
A large gap in food availability for vulnerable Dover kids was still present despite these remarkable achievements, says Claire Bloom of Rochester. In 2009 Claire founded “End 68 Hours of Hunger” to help fill the gap. A retired Navy officer, she recalled “I was at a book club meeting in Dover when one of the members said she was a teacher in Dover, and some children in her school had nothing to eat from Friday lunch until Monday morning. After I first said ‘You have to be kidding,’ I set about doing something about it.” Claire devised an entirely volunteer organized
and run program which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, where individuals, businesses, clubs, and
supermarkets donate nutritious, child-friendly, non-perishable food or make financial donations.
Volunteers pack the food into grocery bags, one for each child in an eligible family. This work is done at a specially built storage building on the property of St. John’s Methodist Church. Before the pandemic, the bags were delivered on Fridays to each Dover elementary and Dover Middle School for the children to take home. The bags are still delivered on Fridays to specific pick-up places in the city’s neighborhoods.
Before our present public health crisis requiring social distancing, a number of Dover Democrats packed the kids’ bags on a particular Thursday night every month at the St. John’s site. Circling around the room, into each bag we put a can of tuna, of fruit, of soup, a jar of peanut butter, one of pasta sauce, a box of pasta and several other items. On our January, February, March Thursday nights we were coated, hatted, and maybe mittened as we worked, and warmed by the thought of comfort also going into the bags. In December 2020, we honored Dover Dem and coordinator for our group, Debbie Bodell, who is moving to be closer to family.
At the present time, 150 Dover children are receiving food each weekend. Claire reported recently that the program has expanded to 46 communities in seven states, serving 4000 children each weekend. Thirty-four of the communities are in New Hampshire. In Tampa, Florida, 600 children are served, and an additional 600 in a metro Ohio area.
Claire’s account of Kendra clearly shows the impact of the program:
Kendra had no attention span. She also didn’t have ADD or ADHD. She would fidget, put her head down on her desk, complain of a bellyache, and too often ask to go to the Nurse. Within weeks of her beginning the 68 Hours of Hunger food program, there was a dramatic change. The stigmatizing food deprived behavior was no more.
In another case, a young boy had been sent to the principal’s office on Friday afternoon. He anxiously asked his teacher: “Does this mean I won’t get my food?” It did not mean that and he got his food.
I remember Friday afternoons. Do you? That last 30 minutes when the teacher strained to keep our attention on the lesson, while we looked up at the hands of the big clock on the wall, so, so slowly going around until finally the bell rang. Then “yea, ‘outa here. It’s Friday!”
I wonder what Friday afternoon feels like to our food insecure children?
Food donations are accepted on Saturdays from 12 noon until 2 p.m. at the End 68 Hours of Hunger location at St. John’s Church, 28 Cataract Avenue in Dover. The following kinds of foods are requested:
Saltines / Graham Crackers
Canned Beef Stew
Canned Pasta – Beefaroni, Ravioli
Canned Soup – 12-20 oz size
Hormel Complete Meals
Macaroni and Cheese
Fruit Cups – 4 pack
Granola Bars/Nutrition Bars
Instant Flavored Rice or Noodles
Instant Flavored Potatoes
Tuna or Chicken or Pulled Pork – 10 oz or smaller cans
Instant Oatmeal individual packets
Pudding Cups – 4 pack
Peanut butter 18 oz
No glass containers, please
Pam has lived in Dover since 2004 after retiring from careers as a Speech/Language Therapist in the Seacoast for 18 years, including ten in Kittery, Maine, followed by 16 years as Family Support Coordinator in Rockingham County's non-profit agency serving people with developmental disabilities and acquired brain injury. This agency is the counterpart of Strafford County's Community Partners. After graduating from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, she taught English to secondary school girls north of Bangkok, Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer, and lived with a Thai family for the second year. She regards this experience as one of the most wonderful of her life.
In addition to her work as a Dover Democrat in which she is on the Executive Committee and Chair of Ward 1, she reads, knits, practices yoga via ZOOM, cooks, walks and maintains friendships. She is delighted beyond measure to have her beloved son Ben and his wife in the Seacoast this winter after two decades of adventure work and travel.