EmVP: Bleu Events helps feed hundreds of kids during pandemic
COLUMBIA - With schools closed and after school programs cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the community has gotten creative to make sure children are fed.
"We had to very quickly pivot into curbside service, so everything is individually packaged," Bleu Events Chief Operating Officer Nathan Todd said. "We didn’t want to go a week with kids not receiving meals in any capacity."
Instead of a bustling club filled with more than a hundred kids, you'll now find a quieter meal service operation.
“We sure do miss their big bright smiling faces. The club went from being lively to being quiet," the club's executive director Valorie Livingston said.
But, this growing food program is still making noise in the community.
"We instantly grew our numbers. We identified that the need was much greater than just Boys & Girls Club kids, but to all kids in the community and Bleu events again said, 'No problem, how many meals do you need?'"
Every week day, the Bleu Events team gets busy preparing and packing individual meals with Bleu chef David Snodgrass in the kitchen.
He prepares a variety of meals from chicken alfredo to pulled pork to BBQ meatloaf.
"It helps the kids out. I didn’t realize how many people actually needed the help out there. It’s nice to know that we can do something for them and make sure that they’re eating," Snodgrass said.
Normally, the club feeds around 160 to 180 kids, but now, they're making meals for about 250. The partnership expanded its meal program to serve any child ages 5 to 18.
“Right now, it might not be hosting big events," Todd said. "Right now, the service that we can contribute to the community is that the meals are done and nutritional guidelines are met and kids are getting fed.”
Livingston said the club is thankful for Todd's leadership and dedication getting out the meals to the community.
"He definitely has been our guardian angel through all of our food program," she said. "He has been here every single day through the last 9 weeks."
"I’ve never had the thought or struggle of not knowing what I’m going to eat when I go home so to take that pressure off some parents' minds...it’s enough to keep me motivated," Todd said.
All families have to do is drive through in the afternoon, right outside the club's location on north 7th Street. They pick up meals and get an activity or prize like a tomato plant or a light-up bracelet.
“It gives us an opportunity to get out during the quarantine. So, they look forward to kind of going through a drive through," Martina Hill said, whose son is a member of the club.
“So much easier that we don't have to worry about making sure that we have a meal that we know he will eat," Jeremy Bloss said. His 6-year-old is also a club member.
Parents are grateful for the help and Todd and his team are glad to step up and do it.
"Seeing that collaboration happen and the community kind of come together to make sure that this program comes together...that’s the absolute best for me," Todd said.
He said 250 meals might sound like a lot, but around 3,500 children qualify for free and reduced price lunches in Columbia Public Schools. So, it's just a sliver of the need.
You can help support the program by making a donation at the Boys & Girls Club of Columbia website. You can designate the donation for the meal program.