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Villa Grove: A Community of Care

More than 100 students in Villa Grove are recipients of a weekly snack pack from Villa Grove Schools. Six years ago the snack pack program was created by then Social Worker, Katrina Freehill, and served about 20-30 students per week. Last year, Kelly Clarkson was at the helm of the program with Becky Olson assisting with the 35 weekly packs. Due to staff changes, Olson, who is passionate about feeding children, is the coordinator of the program which currently serves over 50 families weekly. Olson, who is a long-time teacher at VG, shared that times were tough financially for her family when she was a student in junior high. “I really just have a heart for kids and families and the financial struggles. From 6th-8th grade, I experienced my parents divorce, changing schools, moving seven times, a remarriage of a parent, and three close family members deaths. We were on food stamps, we went to the food pantry, and once we received a basket from a church, or maybe a kind neighbor. So, I really get it, I have been through it, and being the oldest I also had to babysit my brother while my Mom worked. I remember learning to make pancakes at an early age because they were cheap and filling.”

The Villa Grove Snack Pack program is 100 percent funded by the community. Local churches, businesses, organizations, and individuals donate food and money. Weekly, children receive a snack pack of 8 items to help for the weekend. Normally, there is a small class of high school students who pack and deliver to classrooms. To protect confidentiality, the teachers then hand out the packs to individual students. During this time of school closure, the snack packs have been larger, including cereal, spaghetti, and even loaves of bread donated by a local restaurant.  Teachers and volunteers helped with the first and second week packs. The third and fourth week items were packed by two teachers and the school principal. In this time of social distancing, there are limits on who can help. Olson stated, “The love of people just shines through during this time. Just the other day, two different community members handed me cash at the grocery store to help buy food for the program. Others have shopped and are donating regularly. A few of our local businesses, including the Rural Grace Food Pantry, donate almost weekly. The program has received over $4,000 just in the last month, as well as hundreds of dollars of food items. To help with ongoing expenses, each family will receive a gift certificate for Rick’s Country Market this week in addition to the weekly pack. I feel very honored to be part of this program, but it truly takes a village. There are so many behind-the-scenes people who support this program, showing daily how much the Villa Grove Community cares!”

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