This week, on 0684-Radi0, our free podcast (subscribe here in the iTunes Store), we talk to New Canaan residents Tina Kramer and Shawnee Knight, co-founders of Filling In The Blanks. Created in 2013, the nonprofit organization fights childhood hunger by providing children in need with meals on the weekends.
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 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.
As director of character education for St. Luke’s School, Kate Parker-Burgard coordinates community service and leadership opportunities for the student body. About one year ago, one St. Luke’s parent—New Canaan’s Tina Kramer—began sharing with Parker-Burgard what she and fellow town resident Shawnee Knight had been doing with the national Blessings in a Backpack program: The pair had operated the model to purchase and deliver food to 100 kids through a nonprofit that St. Luke’s already works with, Stamford’s Domus—kids on free or reduced lunch at a school—with an eye on expanding the model (through a new organization now in full effect, Filling in the Blanks) to operate through the summer.
New Canaan’s Shawnee Knight and Tina Kramer had been packing food for needy Stamford kids for some six months before they had a chance to meet, in person, the children and teens they’d been helping. The moment came during a special Christmas delivery. Knight and Kramer the summer prior had developed their model of giving under the national Blessings in a Backpack program. At Christmas, the pair arranged to deliver, themselves, special holiday backpacks for the 100 kids they served at Stamford’s Domus—kids on free or reduced lunch at a school that serves some of the city’s most at-risk youth. In those backpacks—themselves new and donated—the kids found not just food but also socks, ear buds, candy, nail polish and shampoo for the girls, Skittles, shampoo and conditioner, pancake mix and syrup.