Fueled by Kids empowers kids as young as six to help their peers facing food insecurity. Hannaford has supported this nonprofit organization through the Hannaford Helps Fight Hunger Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.
Tell us about Fueled by Kids.
Fueled by Kids is a nonprofit organization that provides bags of food to students in Manchester, NH, every weekend. These bags go to kids who receive free or reduced lunch and breakfast through their schools. We are trying to bridge the 67-hour gap between school lunch on Friday and school breakfast on Monday morning by giving kids a consistent source of food every single weekend. The bags become something kids know they can depend on and help relieve the stress food insecurity brings.
My oldest sister, Gracie Mikol, started the organization in 2016 after she overheard a teacher talking about how one of her second-grade students had recently become homeless. Gracie told my family about it, and we reached out to a guidance counselor who was a friend of ours and worked at one of the elementary schools in Manchester. We asked if there was anything we could do. She emphasized getting kids food over the weekends and said teachers often try to buy extra snacks for kids, but it is very irregular and comes out of teachers’ pockets.
We are trying to bridge the 67-hour gap between school lunch on Friday and school breakfast on Monday morning by giving kids a consistent source of food every single weekend.
So, we started with that one school. My family would go to the grocery store and buy different foods and snacks that kids could make by themselves. Packing the bags in our garage, we supported about 65 kids to start. As we started making these weekend food bags, the guidance counselor spread what we were doing to other counselors and social workers in the elementary schools of Manchester. Soon, we started getting more and more schools. We ended up in all the elementary schools and one of the middle schools before Covid. At that point, we were packing in Manchester at New Horizons Food Center. We had a good setup there, but it wasn’t the most accessible for students who wanted to help. Then, a building within walking distance of our high school was donated to us back in 2019. This is still our Fueled by Kids building today, where we store all our food and pack the bags. During Covid, we went from serving between 200 and 300 kids to serving 600 kids. Without the schools being open, we put our bags on the buses to drop off at bus stops. But this did not reach anywhere near the full need. In the two years since then, we have been building up. We now support over 1,000 students and are in all of the public schools in Manchester.
A lot of our volunteers are students my age or younger. The youngest volunteers we have had are six or seven years old. We call it Fueled by Kids because it’s by kids for kids. We really just want to keep kids involved and teach them about giving back to their community.
We call it Fueled by Kids because it’s by kids for kids.
What services do you provide to the community?
We provide bags of food that include fresh fruits, veggies and simple meals kids can make by themselves. We also include different snacks and a pudding cup made with whole milk, which, of course, is the healthy part. Around the holidays, we include a little extra something. For example, we put a piece or two of candy in the bags on Halloween. We’ve also put in toothbrushes and toothpaste before. We try to keep the bags very lightweight because some of these students are young and might have to walk home.
Another key part is we give the bags directly to the kids because we’re trying to put the food in the kids’ control. We do this so students can decide what they are doing with their own food. There have been a lot of stories from social workers about either a parent taking food from a kid or keeping the food under their control. For example, maybe the food is locked in cabinets, or the parents eat all of it. Maybe the kids have older siblings who eat a lot more than they do, or they can’t prepare their own food. Snacks and food are what we’re providing, but we’re also trying to provide a sense of security by allowing kids to have more control. Even the peace of mind of knowing that they will receive these bags every single weekend is important.
What sets Fueled by Kids apart from other nonprofit organizations in your community?
It’s really the involvement that kids and students have in the organization that sets it apart. A lot of places accept all volunteers, but we really try to have mostly kids involved. We even have a Youth Board, which is me and five other students around my age in charge of figuring out different issues. For example, I have all the contact with social workers, different principals, and the superintendent. All this will be passed on to my younger cousin, Jill Russell, next year. To prepare her for taking it over next year, she comes with me whenever I speak at events and helps me with emails. We also meet with donors and figure out the budget depending on prices at different stores.
Snacks and food are what we’re providing, but we’re also trying to provide a sense of security by allowing kids to have more control.
Also, we are set apart by giving the food directly to the kids. There are food pantries and a lot of really great food programs out there for families and adults, but there, kids would be getting ingredients instead of ready-to-go food. Giving that control back to the kids directly is different from other programs.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.
We have heard many stories from social workers about how excited kids are to receive their bags. Kids would come into school super excited and proud of their bags, which was very cute.
It really helps to hear social workers and teachers describing the difference in kids. One student would cry and not want to leave school at the end of the day. This student would pretend to have to stay for something or even hide somewhere to try and stay for as long as possible in the school. It’s very difficult to hear, and I’m sure, difficult for these teachers to see. Now, they talk about how once the students receive our bags, they seem a lot more prepared to go home.
The students even like talking about the bags and are excited to see what’s in them. Seeing these kids more relaxed for the weekend helps a lot. One of our biggest worries was that students would be embarrassed about the bags, so we tried to make sure the bags were not too obvious. The bags are small enough to fit inside a backpack, and students can discreetly pick them up from their guidance office or teacher’s room. So, we’ve had very few issues with any students being embarrassed about it, which is nice.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
We really like hearing about the changes the students go through. Hearing from the superintendent about how much we’re doing really means a lot. We also have an event during the summer to thank our volunteers and tell everyone about what we’ve been doing. At the event, it’s always nice to hear from the community about how much they enjoy participating in Fueled by Kids and from social workers how much of a difference they can see in the kids we help.
It’s hard to think that over 1,000 students in my community benefit from this, but I’m also incredibly happy that we have an organization like this to help and reach out to these students.
Also, I never thought the organization could get this big. It’s hard to think that over 1,000 students in my community benefit from this, but I’m also incredibly happy that we have an organization like this to help and reach out to these students.
What do you want people to know about Fueled by Kids?
It’s really important that people understand this isn’t just an issue in Manchester. There are a lot of towns with students in these situations. How is a six-year-old supposed to fend for themselves to get food?
I want people to know that supporting us is supporting your community. Any little bit that you do really does help. Our bags only cost about five dollars each, so even if you think you aren’t doing much, you are. Anything you can give helps.
How will you use the funds received from the Hannaford Helps Fight Hunger Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs?
Like all of our donations, the Hannaford Fight Hunger Bag Program funds go directly towards buying the food for our bags. So, these donations don’t cover the costs of boxes, bags, the building, or anything like that. The donations we receive all go directly toward buying the food.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thank you to all of our volunteers, sponsors and donors. If we didn’t have that support, we couldn’t continue doing this. Also, having support from Hannaford really does make an impact. It means a lot to us, and this support allows us to stay consistent with these kids and continue to provide our service.
Kate Mikol is Manager of Fueled by Kids.
Published December 19, 2023.