During COVID, the stability of schools being open, and kids receiving some of the regular assistance the schools provide, has been upended. It is still unclear how things will go this next school year. There may still continue to be school closures, which prevents kids from receiving the hot breakfast and lunches offered on school days. If schools are shut down, then the Food 4 Kids program, which provides food for kids to take home over the weekends, is also closed.
COVID has also added additional financial burdens to families who were already living on the edge. Although the federal government has stepped in to provide financial assistance, many jobs have been impacted and in many cases, families have fallen behind in paying their rent. So, many parents are struggling to catch up and feed their children properly. In some cases, parents have to make a difficult decision like whether they are going to pay the rent to provide a home for their families, or use their limited resources to put enough food on the table.
Guru Simran Kaur, founder of the Food 4 Kids New Mexico program, has been working closer than ever with the local school board to ensure that where ever possible, she can continue to provide food to kids who are hungry.
It is a mixed blessing that some of the adult staff working for the schools, themselves were once in the same position as some of the young children who regularly do not have enough to eat. Since they’ve been there themselves, they understand personally how important it is to provide the service this program offers.
At the beginning of a school year, Guru Simran Kaur usually spends $45,000 to purchase food. However, another negative side effect of COVID is that food prices have increased. She expects to spend $50,000 this year as she prepares to put her first food order in. If you are in a position to be able to donate to this program, it will be greatly appreciated and your donation will go directly to feeding hungry children.
We also encourage people to provide food for hungry children in your local area. You can start by contacting local schools who provide daily breakfast/lunch to students. This indicates that there is a need. You can ask them if you can bring food for the kids who participate in these food programs, to bring home over the weekend. Even if you start off yourself bringing 10-20 bags of food each week, that can be a way to get started. You can invite friends or community members to join you, and eventually contact additional schools, and grow your own service program over time.
Read on to find out more about how Guru Simran Kaur got started with her program, and her tips for how to start a program yourself:
How did Food 4 Kids get started?
I was running a weekly program for the children in the Española ashram. I taught yoga, told them stories of the Gurus and we did crafts. One of the mothers said that she wanted her three-year-old daughter to start learning about helping other children. She had learned about a backpack food program, and suggested we do something similar in our program. I looked into this backpack food program that was being run by a local church. I found out how they did it, and decided to replicate this program for 10 children at Sombrillo Elementary School. So I began asking each of the kids to bring one food item (pudding, fruit cups, etc.) from home each week, and we all put together 10 snack bags for these students. Over time, other people in the ashram wanted to contribute to the program and started bringing larger quantities of food. It kept expanding as more people learned what we were doing, and we started putting together packages for 26 children, then 40. The children got tired of the program, but there was a lot of energy among the parents and other adults in the ashram to continue the program. It just kept growing and snowballed from there. We eventually started serving children at a second school.
Can you describe the work of Food 4 Kids, for those who haven’t heard of it before?
Food 4 Kids provides food for kids in low income households that would normally go hungry on the weekends. We have been doing this for about 14 years. Before COVID, we would deliver the food packages to the school, and they would be distributed by the school administrators and teachers based on need. After COVID, the schools closed and we had to shift our model. We started providing bags of food to feed whole families, as opposed to just children.
So we started working with Moving Arts, an after-school program for homeless children, and the Grandmothers Program, to distribute the food bags. There are a few schools that are good about getting food to the kids by sending the buses around daily to bring breakfast and lunch to the kids at home, and we’ve also been providing food bags to them to add in. We are currently distributing these bags to four different schools. We are currently feeding about 200 families per week. Sometimes we do special holiday offerings, like our Spring Break effort, that included 500 packages.
Can you offer advice and inspiration to those who might like to start a similar project?
Draw on your own skill set and share your gifts with the world! It’s essential to reach outside your own community and gain an understanding of how others live and their reality. You have to be in touch with the reality of people’s lives and deeply connect with them in order to serve them.
Can you share 5 quick tips with our global audience on how they might start their own projects?
- Start out very small. You’ll learn that over time things will grow organically. Reassess periodically as time goes on.
- Be careful not to go beyond what you can handle. It’s important to remain consistent. Don’t go from serving 10 to 30, then back to 10. Make sure you can maintain the Seva at a comfortable level of energy and money. Pace yourself so you can be committed and stay reliable.It’s essential you make sure you don’t grow so big and then cut back. People start to rely on you. You need to build a reputation where you come through for people, come what may, once you get started.
- Be cautious about over-reliance on volunteers. They will come and go, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Sometimes volunteers will remain involved for the long haul, but you should make sure that you can manifest the program by yourself when needed.
- Be clear about the purpose and scope of your program. Stay firm in your intention, and don’t get-sidetracked. Clearly communicate your intentions with those you’re working with and set them up for success with clear guidelines.
- If you want to start a school food program, pay attention to the details – adhering to school rules and being aware of holidays and schedules are essentials. If you’re looking for a school to serve in your area, you can research the schools in your area that have been identified to have the highest poverty rates.
Have you encountered any challenges when running Food 4 Kids? How did you overcome them?
Roadblocks are normal. One year I didn’t get all the money I needed to buy food. For a certain period I was spending $1,000 out of my own pocket to keep the program going. I thought I’d have to discontinue due to to this fundraising challenge. I sought out funding and donors. And then it came through, people came through, and it worked out. The last several years people have come through and been so generous.
It’s important not to be too rigid. We had a great set up running smoothly, then COVID happened. We had to move into a separate building, a bigger space that allowed for social distancing. We had to institute a policy where volunteer groups consisted of 1-2 people working together each session, versus a big group working together. We adapted. That’s life.
My biggest advice is be flexible, and take it one small step at a time. Don’t make big decisions. Do things in increments, and reassess how it’s working, then seek other solutions if necessary. Look for solutions when things come up by observing what other people are doing and asking others for advice. Sometimes I’ve wrangled with certain challenges for months, but I am persistent and keep at it, and the problem always gets solved eventually.
Can you share a high moment or inspiring story that you experienced with Food 4 Kids?
We gave one of the schools we work with Christmas food bags one year. The kids were told in advance that the food bags were going to be distributed, and everyone showed up. On other days many of the students wouldn’t show up for school, but that day everyone was there. All 275 kids in the program got the food bags. They were so grateful to have the food to get them through the holidays.
Do you draw inspiration from Sikh Dharma when doing Seva?
The Gurus fed everyone who came to the Guru’s house – they all did it. Here in Española there’s very minimal public transportation. Kids can’t come to the ashram easily to get a meal. Society has changed and people are more spread out and often live in remote areas. So we can’t practice this in the same way the Gurus did, with people making it to the Guru’s house to receive Langar. We need to bring the Langar to the children.
Doing Seva is not about recognition, awards, or praise. It’s about doing it quietly, and then going on with the rest of your life. This is a part of developing our Neutral Mind. Seva is completely selfless service. It’s not easy. You don’t get any worldly rewards, and that’s what makes it perfect. That’s true Seva.
Guru Gobind Singh once dressed as a beggar, and went house to house asking for food in the evening. Many households made excuses, said they had no food, had already put their dinner away, etc. A poorer house welcomed him in, and offered to make him a meal then and there. That was the one person who understood his teachings. That person put all their selfish needs and desires aside to serve this beggar. This is what being a Sikh is.
S.S. Guru Simran Kaur Khalsa – Food 4 Kids Director
Guru Simran Kaur Khalsa founded Food 4 Kids in 2009, and continues to serve as the Program Director.
You can contact Guru Simran at firstname.lastname@example.org or (505) 927-3782 if you would like to run ideas for starting your own seva project by Guru Simran.
Visit the Food 4 Kids Website to learn more: https://www.food4kidsnm.org
Do you have an “Aquarian Sevadar” in your community? We want to share their story.
Please write to us at email@example.com, if you have someone in mind who has an inspiring story to tell.