Retired teacher, Kathie Mason, has been volunteering with community food distribution efforts since March to ensure Ottumwa's children didn't go hungry. She volunteered all summer, then recently started helping again when Ottumwa set up a weekly meal distribution for Bulldog Virtual Learning students. With the recent extension of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) program, the number of students participating has almost doubled. Mason, who retired in May, has the time and wanted to continue to support efforts to reduce food insecurity. "It's a great cause," she said.
Since March, Ottumwa Schools has been distributing meals to children. SFSP provided free meals to children since the pandemic started. When school started in August, the school nutrition program provided breakfast and lunch to students served either face-to-face or virtually. Recently, the federal government extended the SFSP program through December, providing free meals to all students and children in Ottumwa ages 1 through 18.
Mason recruited fellow retirees Julie Lawrence and Joni Rodgers. Lawrence likes the feeling that she is making a difference. "We hear a lot of thank you's," she said.
Today, with temperatures in 50s, Mason and Lawrence helped food service staff hand out bags of food. For each child, families receive five breakfasts and five lunches. Some items are frozen, such as mini corn dogs, hamburger patty, sunbutter pockets, etc. Bags also include a milk carton with each meal. For children who attend qualifying schools, they receive an additional fruit or vegetable serving four days per week.
Today, 450 meals were handed out in an hour. Distribution is done on Fourth Street near the OHS cafeteria entrance. "With the increase in food insecurities in Ottumwa, our staff and volunteers are playing a critical role in making a difference in the lives of children," said Yvonne Johnson, Director of Food and Nutrition for Ottumwa Schools. "We would not be as successful, if not for their dedication to our community. I personally thank them for their commitment to Ottumwa's children."