ROCKLAND — AIO Food & Energy Assistance has been the recipient of meaningful support from throughout the community this past year, but noteworthy is a generation of younger supporters.
“These are young people who are socially aware – who see a need in our community and take action,” said AIO, in a news release.
AIO Executive Director Joe Ryan has been working with individual and teams of young people mover the last year. Addie Blake is one such young person, who since the age of seven, has used her birthday as an opportunity to collect support for AIO in lieu of birthday presents. For her 8th birthday she had a lemonade stand and donated the proceeds of her sales to AIO. For her 9th birthday she asked family member to make donations to AIO in lieu of buying her presents. This year in celebration of her 10th birthday Addie made a list of everything needed to make a birthday cake – including cooking oil, pans, cake mix, candles, and frosting, as well as decorations and banners. Her goal was to collect supplies for 100 cakes and donate them to AIO so that any AIO client who wanted to celebrate their birthday with a cake could make one.
On her birthday Addie and her mom came to drop off the supplies. Ryan gave a tour of the new facility, introduced Addie to volunteers, and shared with her the impact of her gift. Addie was given an honorary AIO red apron with gratitude for her generous spirit.
“I’m so happy I got to do this. I love thinking about so many people blowing out candles, making wishes and smiling,” Addie told staff.
“It means so much when a child with vision, determination, and leadership steps forward. I am fortunate to meet our community’s future,” said Ryan. “There is a whole generation of kids who are thinking about how they can help. They are taking an idea and bringing it to life. They are leading by example.”
Another example is a group of teenagers who have been volunteering at AIO, helping to pack the dairy bags of milk, butter, and eggs. The three girls work together in one room, the mother of one girl works on another project in another room. During the last year everyone has been faced limited social interaction, especially students who rely on school for their connection with friends. For these girls, volunteering at AIO has provided an opportunity for them to connect while helping others in a meaningful way. Ryan shares that they recently had a conversation where they discussed the significant effect of their efforts. Joe wanted them to understand that their seemingly small role each week is part of a system of volunteer teams that make AIO possible.
“I wanted them to understand that AIO couldn’t do what we do without them,” said Ryan.
Education and building awareness about food and energy insecurity in the community is an important component of AIO’s work. Recently Ryan was invited to participate in a virtual classroom with a group of 4th graders who were doing a community project about food. Through the course of the conversation Ryan learned that while on the bus the class had passed a man with a blanket walking out of the woods. A conversation with the teacher ensued and the class wanted to help the man. Ryan was able to speak with the class about the importance of respecting the privacy of every individual in the community.
“As a community we can each help to make sure people are aware that there is food for anyone who needs it and to provide information on how to get it,” said AIO. “With this man in mind the class understood that while it wasn’t appropriate to bring the man food directly, they could do something to help him be aware of where he can get food. They decided to make posters that they could hang up close to where the man was living. There’s a lesson for all of us: it doesn’t have to be a big thing to make a big impact.”
AIO invites anyone who would like to learn more about its programs to visit aiofoodpantry.org or to contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Together we can grow our community’s awareness of food and energy insecurity and help to make sure anyone who needs help gets it,” said the food pantry.
About AIO Food and Energy Assistance:
For over 30 years AIO has provided nutritious food and heating assistance to Knox County families. Funding and access to AIO’s programs are more critical than ever as food insecurity in Knox County is projected to increase 46% overall. Knox County currently has the 4th highest food insecurity rate in the state. Child food insecurity is projected to reach 28% (a 52% increase). Since January 1, AIO has supported 1547 individual households and has distributed 290 meal kits each week during the school year.
AIO’s Energy Assistance Program helps households with heating assistance or electrical disconnection prevention – which is critical as winter begins. AIO has helped 570 families already this winter (20% more than the total last year). The need for assistance is real and is not going away anytime soon given the ongoing pandemic.