Local Nonprofit ‘Filling in the Blanks’ Hits 10-Year Milestone

Ten years ago, New Canaan’s Shawnee Knight and Tina Kramer were looking for something worthwhile that they could do on their own. 

On learning about the national Blessings in a Backpack program, they connected with an area summer camp to kickstart a food-packing program. It was funded entirely by themselves, and the friends not only learned a lot about the logistics of such an undertaking, they saw a very real need up close. That Christmas, they arranged to deliver, themselves, special holiday backpacks for the 100 kids at Stamford’s Domus—kids on free or reduced lunch at a school that serves some of the city’s most at-risk youth. Soon they founded an 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization—Filling in the Blanks—to ensure that those kids also had food on the weekends throughout the school year. That was in 2013.

Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Hunter Van Veghel

The food drive that New Canaan-based nonprofit organization Filling In The Blanks ran that day had already been a huge success. 

Held May 21 at New Canaan Library, it saw about 100 vehicles come through and raised some 5,200 individual food items for the organization, according to co-founders and co-Presidents Tina Kramer and Shawnee Knight. Launched in 2013, the organization provides thousands of area children in need with weekend meals. The generous donations at the food drive organized with the library are especially important at a time of wide food scarcity, Kramer said. ”We are having difficulty purchasing the food we need, because the sources we usually use are not able to get us the items we are used to, so we have to buy retail,” she said. At about 5 p.m. that Thursday, members of the Filling In The Blanks team were unloading a truck of food at the organization’s Norwalk warehouse when the driver, 2012 New Canaan High School graduate Hunter Van Veghel, spotted a few young kids playing basketball at a shuttered school nearby.

New Canaan Community Foundation Awards $650,000 in Grants

The New Canaan Community Foundation celebrated its annual Grant Awards Ceremony Thursday morning, where the agency divided $650,000 among 80 local nonprofit organizations. NCCF Board Chair Sharon Stevenson said the ceremony provided a chance to “come together to celebrate and look forward to our shared work going forward.”

“This patchwork of investments is touching a broad range of needs in our community,” Stevenson said during the hourlong event, attended by more than 150 people and held in the Lamb Room at New Canaan Library. With its other grant programs, NCCF will invest more than $1 million dollars in grant aid this year. John Knight, the organization’s Distributions Committee chair, said the grant investments “depend primarily on the generosity of local donors.”

The 2017 Fundraising Appeal Committee, co-chaired by Sara and Spencer Schubert and Linda and Jay Twombly, led efforts to raise the donated funds. This year’s 92 grant requests totaled nearly $1.3 million.

‘It’s People Like Me’: Filling In The Blanks Club at NCHS

New Canaan High School junior Grace Brown learned last year about locally based Filling In The Blanks from the organization’s co-founder, Shawnee Knight. The nonprofit provides meals on the weekends and through the summer to needy kids at several area schools and community centers. Yet as the base of kids served by Filling In The Blanks has expanded—from DOMUS to Bedford Hills Elementary School to KT Murphy, Roxbury, Boys and Girls Club and Chester Addison Community Center—the need for volunteers to support the organization also has grown (more on that below). Together with classmate Maggie DeFrancesco, Brown as a sophomore launched the Filling In The Blanks Club at NCHS—an extracurricular group whose members say they receive immediate and special rewards as they do good for peers in neighboring communities. “We just wanted to raise some money and awareness for the organization and help provide for kids who really couldn’t afford to have three meals a day on weekends,” DeFrancesco said on Thursday afternoon outside NCHS Room 223, where more than a dozen underclassmen who had signed up during Club Fair waited to more hear about Filling In The Blanks.