There’s no doubt the pandemic has changed our world, our communities and each of us in ways we could never have imagined. But once in a while, the hardest times can lead to the greatest moments. That’s what happened in Texas, where local Boys & Girls Clubs mobilized (literally!) to reach kids who couldn’t reach them.
A Food Program Goes Curbside
“When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Clubs had to rethink how we serve kids overnight,” said Daphne Barlow Stigliano, CEO and president of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County. Knowing that many Club kids depend on the daily meals and snacks they receive at the Club, they launched a drive-up food distribution program at 11 locations throughout the community. “We had lines that were miles long,” Daphne said. “We were serving tens of thousands of people weekly with meals and groceries in partnership with our local food bank.”
But Daphne knew there were still families they weren’t reaching. “Not everybody’s got a car, and not everybody can walk to us. We knew people were still hungry, more people needed us, and we could do more,” she said.
More Than Meals
Then something serendipitous happened. Daphne received a phone call from Fidelity Investments, one of their partners in the area. They had a kitchen — rather, a “dining enterprise,” as they called it — they hadn’t been able to use since the shutdown began. Instead of laying off all their kitchen workers, they offered to have them cook for the Club.
That made Daphne think of something: the Club’s empty school buses parked near her office, unused since the shutdown. A light bulb went off, and she proposed, “How about you cook for our kids and families, and we’ll send our buses to you to fill with food?”
After getting clearance from the county health department, they began their mobile food distribution system. It was clear from the start the community needed something like this, so the Clubs kept it going even as their state reopened and Clubs were able to resume normal operations.
Then they took it even further. “Families needed services in places where Clubs aren’t located,” Daphne said. “So we started thinking of ways to bring the Club to people beyond just a meal.”
A Club On Wheels: The Mobile Clubhouse Experience
And that’s how the Mobile Clubhouse was born. Today, the Club’s yellow school buses have been replaced by a four-vehicle fleet, complete with a pop-out RV and a setup of tents and tables. They partner with churches, public housing authorities and community organizations that provide a place to set up. In addition to distributing food, they offer physical activities and educational programming just like you’d find at the Club.
“It allows us to take the Club where people need us most,” Daphne said. “It has been an effective way to extend the Club to more communities, especially through what is still an ongoing pandemic. “
In its first three months alone, the Mobile Clubhouse reached more than 3,400 children — a number that continues to grow as the new year approaches. And while that alone is certainly cause for celebration, the community can expect more help and hope in 2022 and beyond.
“COVID-19 has impacted kids and families everywhere, but children and teens with fewer resources have suffered the most,” Daphne explained. “When we think about the duty we have at Boys & Girls Clubs, it's important to think about not just what we have done, but what we can and must do next.”
Give Kids Their Next Great Moment
Families and communities rely on Boys & Girls Clubs of America to give them the meals, mentors and meaningful life experiences they need to get through the toughest times and achieve their next great moment. With your support, great moments add up to great futures.