Tucking her hair behind her ear, Tracy Kronk bends down to eye level with a little girl at London Elementary School.
“I like your shirt,” she says in a soft, sweet voice. “Pink is my favorite color.”
The second-grader gives a shy smile in return. She agrees to let Kronk put a grocery bag in her backpack and skips out the door, flashing a massive grin to her familiar teacher in the hallway.
Kronk’s eyes immediately fill with tears. She’s been giving food to children in need in Madison County for five years, but the emotion still gets to her.
It started when she was volunteering at Norwood Elementary, a responsibility she took on in an effort to spend more time with her son. The students had just returned from a three-day weekend.
Kronk asked another young boy if he was sad about returning from the extended break, but his response surprised her.
“I can’t wait to come back to school,” he answered. “I don’t get to eat on the weekend.”
The next Friday, she handed the boy a bag of food to take home.
About 22 million American children get free or reduced-price lunches, but fewer than 4 million of those are fed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer food programs. According to studies, roughly 1 in 5 families with children are not getting enough food.
Kronk knew the boy couldn’t be the only child in trouble. She reached out to the Good Samaritan Food Pantry in West Jefferson and within three weeks was feeding 17 students.
Her cause continued to grow. The organization, Sufficient Grace, officially became a 501c3 nonprofit last year. She served Norwood Elementary for a few years before expanding to West Jefferson and Monroe elementaries, the latter of which is in the Jonathan Alder School District. Monroe has a high percentage of economically distressed students.
This month, she added London Elementary. She expects to serve 150 to 175 students.
Principal Carol Daniels and Melissa Canney, the district’s student support specialist, worked with Kronk to introduce the program. During a meeting with staff members last month, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” Daniels recalled.
About 60 percent of the elementary students receive free or reduced-price lunches, she said.
“Teachers were already individually helping kids in subtle ways,” Daniels said. This program allows the assistance to be organized.
Teachers will select the students to participate based off conversations and behavioral patterns. One teacher knew a child was in need when she saw him pocketing his peers’ leftover chicken nuggets to take home. Another clue: the students who run to breakfast every Monday morning.
Each Friday, those selected students will receive a bag. Food items are made to be easy for the children to open and eat themselves. They include microwavable macaroni and cheese, ravioli in cans with pull-off tabs, applesauce, pudding, fruit cups, Ramon noodles and granola bars.
One fifth-grade boy receiving a bag liked what he saw on display.
“I see a lot of goodies,” he proclaimed.
But the goodies aren’t free. Sufficient Grace needs $52,000 this year to service students, $17,000 of which will go toward London students. Kronk expects to serve 44,000 meals. The Kronk Family — husband, Ty, 11-year-old Jacob and 8-year-old Grace — make a lot of trips to Sam’s Club.
Students at Norwood, West Jefferson and Monroe Elementary receive bags three days a week. London will start with just Fridays.
Kronk has raised $10,000 so far, but needs $42,000 more. Donations can be mailed to Sufficient Grace, P.O. Box 92, West Jefferson, OH 43162. Volunteers are always needed to unpack, sort and bag food, as well.
Daniels said the London FFA is already looking into how it can support the initiative with a food drive. Sufficient Grace is a good service project, she said.
Students entering the room looking anxious, but each left with big grins on their faces, she observed.
“The children look relieved,” she said, “like they know everything is going to be OK this weekend.”
For more information, contact Kronk at sufficientgrace2012.