To feed hungry schoolchildren and hard pressed families during the long COVID-19 summer, the Tiger Hollow organization and the Ridgefield Food Pantry are looking for volunteers to invest $30 to $60 a week — and some shopping time.

“There are neighbors in our community who are financially struggling from COVID-19. They rely on the school lunch program to feed their children. School will soon be out, but the need for lunch will not be,” says a message to the community from the Summer of 2020 Feed the Tiger Program.

Organizers anticipate that in the neighborhood of 50 to 100 Ridgefield families will be in need and the operation is being set up to provide them with food for 10 weeks over the summer when school is out, from June 22 to August 24.

“As of this morning 75 Ridgefield community members have volunteered to help support a family in the program,” Tiger Hollow President Jill Bornstein said Monday. “Folks like Larry Debany of 850 Restaurant have volunteered to provide free pizzas to families. The outpouring of support has been incredible.”

Town Social Service Director Tony Phillips will provide Tiger Hollow Inc. with specific numbers of families who need assistance.

Since March the school lunch program had been providing “grab-and-go” lunches Monday through Friday, available to families of Ridgefield students. In April, with schools closed, the school lunch program provided “grab-and-go” lunches, ranging from a low of 551 to a high of 744 lunches a week, according to Phillips, who cited information from School Business Manager Dawn Norton.

Feed the Tigers will help address the need when the school lunch program stops at the time classes would normally end in mid June.

“This summer is different for obvious reasons, and we are trying to organize the community to help support our Ridgefield kids/families until school meals kick in again,” Phillips said. “On a side note, many people still wish to actively shop for and donate food to our pantry — but the pantry is closed,” he said. “To me this offers a way for residents to actively support the pantry and their neighbors, with minimal risk of person to person contact.”

People in the Tiger Hollow organization will match donors to anonymous families they’ll shop for “so that the shopping can begin and lunch will continue once school ends,” Bornstein said.

Two bags a week

Details are still being worked out, but Bornstein sketched out the basic design of the operation.

“The program will likely provide one to two bags of groceries for families that need assistance, delivered once a week at a local school or church where the grocery bag will be picked up later in the day,” she said.

“Families who participate will provide Social Services with a list of items they would like.”

The Social Services office will then anonymously provide the family’s food needs information to a donor who will do shopping and deliver those items once a week.

“Please note that food suggestions do not need to focus on traditional lunch foods,” Bornsstein said.

The Tiger Hollow organization will provide volunteers to help staff the food drop-off and pick-up locations, and will manage the volunteers.

“Social Services will interact with the families who need food support this summer,” Bornstein said.

To qualify to receive food through the Feed the Tigers program, families must:

1) live in Ridgefield;

2) be experiencing food insecurity;

3) have a student in the Ridgefield Public schools is or was eligible for the free/reduced price lunch program.

Stadium to food

The Tiger Hollow group has long raised money for the infrastructure of Ridgefield High School’s athletic programs — with Tiger Hollow stadium the centerpiece of their efforts

In these times, the move into feeding people just made sense, according to Bornstein.

“At Tiger Hollow’s April board meeting we were discussing our motto ‘For the community, by the community’ and asked ourselves how Tiger Hollow Inc, which has been so generously supported by the community, could help the community,” she said.

“Our initial thought was a food drive where drive-through donations could be dropped at the Tiger Hollow Pavilion, and then we could bring those to the food pantry,” she said.

“In speaking with Tony Phillips at Ridgefield Social Services he let us know that the food pantry was only accepting gift cards but was not accepting food donations at the time,” Bornstein said. “He shared that he was more concerned that the summer food needs would be greater than usual once the public school lunch program ended and wanted to see if we would consider teaming with him to help food needs over the summer.”

Phillips worked with the Tiger Hollow board, identifying potential needs and collaborating with Bornstein to design the Feed Our Tigers program.

“An important element of the program was not just a donation, but the shopping part so that it was active support,” Bornstein said. “The Tiger Hollow Board was extremely supportive of the program and we have been moving forward since then.”