Photos and article by Patrice Johnson
It’s 10 a.m. Wednesday. Cheryl Holloway could be hitting the golf course or joining friends for coffee, but instead she steps through the back door of the Old Middle School and saunters down a dark hallway to room 115. Tables fill the room, and stacks of canned food line the walls. Time to stuff the Tide Me Over bags.
Over the course of an hour or two, Holloway will stuff enough orange nylon tote bags to feed 56 needy Smith Elementary children over the weekend.
Throughout the school year for the past eight years, Holloway has devoted several hours each week to hauling cases of cans and boxes and bags onto the tables. She arranges healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks into assembly-line rows. Then she fills the Tide Me Over bags, two at a time. Today, each TMO bag received one can of ravioli, tuna fish, green beans and peaches; a box of chocolate milk; and a packet of pudding, ramen noodles, Cocoa Puffs, Cheetos, peanut-butter sandwich crackers, oatmeal, raisins, grape jelly and peanut butter.
Even while working full-time as an SHS teacher, the tall and quiet Holloway managed to squeeze several hours out of her busy schedule each week to operate the Tide Me Over program, a service she and fellow teacher, Jean Buurma, launched in 2009 to stave off hunger among the elementary school’s most vulnerable students.
Holloway credits Buurma. “Jean was on the Outreach Board when she saw a TV news broadcast about an inner city program that sent food home with children to tide them over the weekend.” No similar program existed for “little towns like us,” Holloway said. “There was such a need for the kids that we thought, ‘hey, let’s try that.’”
Buurma and Holloway applied for grants from the state and Ingham County, and as the program took shape, supporters stepped forward. 5 Healthy Towns provided funding. Farmers State Bank donated orange nylon carry bags. Churches collected food. Members of the community opened their checkbooks. Holloway said one donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, contributed $5,000 last year and $7,000 this year. “He grew up going to bed hungry,” Holloway said, “and he doesn’t want other children to experience that.”
Last year funding exceeded $10,000, but when Buurma retired to spend more time with her family, Holloway found she was all alone, providing TMO bags for more than 100 students, pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. “It was taking me hours just to stuff the bags,” Holloway said—not to mention keeping track of recipients, managing inventory, shopping, arranging delivery and tending to myriad tasks that come with running the program.
Once again, Crossroads Community Church, 5 Healthy Towns and others extended helping hands. The program was divided into two parts with Holloway now managing Tide Me Over for Smith Elementary’s pre-kindergarten through second graders. Crossroads members, headed by Cheryl Dobos with the help of Julie Scott and sons Ryan and Kevin attend to Heritage Elementary’s third through sixth grade TMO program.
“The program is very beneficial,” Dobos said. “We supplement what we order from the school lunch program and Food Bank. We go out and purchase.”
“It takes an army,” Holloway emphasized, “and the need keeps growing.” Since its inception the complex supply chain has grown steadily. “The Heritage folks have more than 50 students.”
To qualify, students must show need and be enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program at school. Each orange bag is marked with a student’s name. “The kids are responsible for returning their bags,” Holloway insisted. “If they don’t bring theirs back, no TMO for them next weekend.”
Food items vary each week. Holloway orders supplies from the Greater Lansing Food Bank, Meijer, Sam’s Club and the school lunch program. “A lot of churches donate.” She smiled. “The Stockbridge Presbyterians collected all summer and gave us a whole bunch of food.” She patted a wheeled, blue cart with particular fondness. “This came from North Lake Methodist,” she said, “and it makes transporting the bags easy.”
“Outreach takes over during the summer,” Holloway said. “They provide TMO for whole families by the week with coupons for groceries like milk.”
Food storage, packing supplies, staging tables, and transporting equipment require significant space, and Holloway hopes a buyer will purchase the Old Middle School, “so the program can continue to have a place to operate, and we won’t have to move.”
Donations may be made c/o the TMO program to Stockbridge Outreach, located behind the Old Middle School, 370 Cherry Street on Monday and Friday (9-3) and Wednesday from 1-6 p.m. Mail to Stockbridge Community Outreach, P.O. Box 682, Stockbridge, MI 49285. Questions or comments? Email Holloway at 56Hollowayc@gmail.com.
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