By Stacey Gualandi/February 20, 2012
As a mother of four, Tama Clapper knows how important it is that her children eat healthy meals. But when her family moved to Gillette, Wyoming, four years ago, she had no idea that children were going hungry in this community of 30,000 people. So this minister’s wife set out to help those families who can’t afford to put food on the table.
“I have a really big desire to help children that are in need.”
In 2010, she joined forces with Blessings in a Backpack, a non-profit organization that raises money for food; partners with chains like Walmart and Kroger; and then distributes it to children in backpacks every week. Now this mom on a mission has provided nearly 400 needy children with food-filled backpacks to help them get through the weekends. And her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
I spoke to Tama recently on The Women’s Eye Radio Show to ask why she vowed to make sure no more children will go hungry.
EYE: How do find time to do what you’re doing?
TAMA: Just knowing that I am helping to feed several hundred children every week is enough to make it easy to find time. I don’t have to spend as much time on the internet or watching TV, but I can use those spare moments to serve my community and feed kids. It’s pretty easy to find that time.
EYE: When you moved to Wyoming four years ago, did you have any notion that this was a problem?
TAMA: No, we had no idea. I have a really big desire to help children that are in need. We have a pretty good community running a 5% unemployment rate so when you look at our home compared to the rest of the nation, you’d think we were fine, but one of the things that has been a big shock to our community is not only is there a need, but there’s a large need. It was not only a big surprise to me but also for our community too.
TAMA: I went to the schools and what they told me is because we’ve had such a boom here in housing – small apartments go for on average around $1000 – a family moves here thinking they will get a good job only to find out that it was seasonal or something went wrong, and so now they are working for minimum wage. They now are having a hard struggle, especially for food because the cost of living here is so high.
EYE: Just how bad was it?
TAMA: I had talked to school counselors, and they would tell me that children would be in the lunch room on Mondays and eating very slowly and she would say, “What’s wrong?” One girl in particular said, “My stomach hurts so badly because I didn’t have any food to eat.”
Once I heard that and found out that in that one school, there were at least 50 students not eating, I knew there was something I had to do. It went pretty quickly once you hear that 50 children are going two full days without food. It’s pretty easy to want to meet that need.
EYE: So what did you do? Literally go online and search for a solution?
TAMA: Coming from Chicago, I knew there were resources out there. I did a Google search and stumbled on Blessings in a Backpack and found that it was organization that had already done the legwork, had built relationships with stores, and had developed a menu. I was able to find them, and it was an easy partnership.
EYE: What does the organization do?
TAMA: It’s a national organization founded by Stan Curtis. He was a foster child abandoned by his parents; he has a really big heart to serve children who are in need. He was a stockbroker for many years and decided that his passion would be to serve children.
So what they do is provide backpacks to local programs that want to start it. They take the money and give you a tax donation, but 100% of the money we earn goes directly to the children. There is no overhead. They are an accountable partner to us and that makes it easy to market our program.
“I just wanted to serve my community. I’ve been blessed in the process.”
EYE: How does it work?
TAMA: Once a month we do a really large order. We work with Walmart and have a pretty good system now in place. We pick up four weeks of food which is about two truckloads of groceries. We pick it up and break it down into individual packets and then once a week, we load backpacks. We fill them with that weeks’ menu. It takes about 15 volunteers to fill them all. And then we have other volunteers who bring the packs to the schools. Right now we have ten different schools. We hope to get to 15.
EYE: How do you feel about all the attention you’ve received by doing this?
TAMA: I’m kind of in shock. I’m a quiet person but this organization has been a huge blessing. If it feeds more children it’s totally worth it, but I had no idea going into this. I just wanted to serve my community. I’ve been blessed in the process.
EYE: What is the reaction from the families?
TAMA: We want to respect the families’ privacy, and so I know only a few have talked with counselors in the schools. I’ve read about one family who is really struggling and going through some hard times and just to know that someone is willing to reach out to them and provide their kids with food is really encouraging.
It’s been a real positive connection between us and the schools and the families. It’s just letting them know we are here, no strings attached. They have food for their children and its one less worry they have to have each week.
“If our city needs it, I’m sure many cities need it.”
EYE: What do they say?
TAMA: The families are overjoyed when I get to meet them. They are grateful and amazed that there is a program out there like this. I make sure to let them know it’s a huge community effort out there, beyond just myself. They think we are very kind. Sometimes it’s the only help they had at that moment so it’s very encouraging.
TAMA: It’s definitely a sign of what our country is going through…the recession, loss of jobs. There is a very big need. If our city needs it, I’m sure many cities need it. I hope as time goes on there will be more job opportunities and families will get stable again.
EYE: What is the cost?
TAMA: For only $80, you can feed a child for a whole year. And guarantee that the child won’t experience hunger during the school year. It’s good nutritious food.
EYE: You have four kids but you want to add to the mix?
TAMA: Yes, we think kids are a blessing. We are excited as we are adding two more children from Ethiopia. We are in the process of adopting two, ages six and under….
EYE: You’re like the Angelina Jolie of Gillette Wyoming! Will you keep doing this? People can start their own program fairly easily right?
TAMA: Yes! It’s pretty easy. I am talking with new people all the time about starting up in their own communities. If only ten kids need it, it’s worth it.
“I believe 62% of children are in need. That tells us there are many children whose parents are having trouble providing food…“
EYE: What do your kids think about what you are doing?
TAMA: They work right alongside me. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to see we can meet the needs of others. It’s often enjoyable and fun packing the totes. So they can see serving others can be fun and it is a blessing to us to be able to serve somebody else. I believe 62% of children are in need. That tells us there are many children whose parents are having trouble providing food over the weekend.
EYE: How do we get involved?
TAMA: You can go right to the website. They can talk to you about how you can start a program, you can donate online, or you can find one in your community.
EYE: Your efforts will continue to be an example to so many. It’s nice to know people like you are willing to devote time and love to those in need. Thank you, Tama!!!