“Grandma” Helps Reduce Stigma at St. Paul School
It all started when Debi went to her grandson’s PTA meeting at Lincoln Elementary 15 years ago. Seeing some of the needs of the kids, she knew she could be there for them. Debi has advocated for the school in order to get access to more books and to build a playground that is more accessible for students with physical disabilities. A decade and a half later, Debi still volunteers in classrooms as a special education assistant three to four full school days per week.
It is clear Debi cares deeply for the students at Lincoln—she is actually much better known at Lincoln as “Grandma.” In her first years volunteering at Lincoln, when her grandson still attended, he called her Grandma, and his friends started doing the same. Soon, the name just stuck.
When we spoke with her, students were walking by her after school to pick up some fresh foods from the Food + You program food distribution. As students went by, Debi would greet each child by name, and some would come over just to hug Grandma.
As kids went to the distribution, where families could pick up food to bring home (this afternoon, the distribution included greens, nectarines, shelf-stable staples and more), Debi recalled how it was challenging to encourage kids and their parents to pick up the food when the program was first starting. “There was some stigma in the beginning. But the more Food + You has been going on, the more people come,” Debi said.
Having struggled with hunger herself, Debi knows the importance of getting help. When she was raising kids of her own, the kids in her apartment building who played with her children would eat in her home. “The kids all thought we were rich just because we had food,” she said.
As she has done for 15 years, Debi thought about how she could help the kids. Early into Food + You’s presence at Lincoln, Debi heard a couple of students talking about how they aren’t going to accept the help because they didn’t want others to know they needed it. She came over and said, “Don’t worry, Grandma gets food too.”
Looking up to her, one child said, “Oh really?” Debi explained that sometimes she can use the help from time to time too, and there’s no shame in getting what you need.
According to Debi, five new families came to the next Food + You food distribution right after that.
With the help from volunteers like “Grandma” and Second Harvest Heartland staff working together with the school to reduce any stigma among students and families, Food + You at Lincoln is going well. The afternoon we visited Debi, more than 100 families had picked up fresh food from the distribution.
“It makes me feel good when you see the food go out the door,” Debi said. “They’re happy to get it. There’s no stigma with the kids anymore.”
With another academic year beginning, Food + You will have another year of providing food help to hungry kids and their families. In the third year of the program, we’re reaching even more families in need. Learn more about the Food + You program and our Child Hunger Initiative.