It’s about more than just delivering food
Every Sunday at 3:00 p.m. a flurry of activity begins at the LockTite storage unit in Dripping Springs on E. Hwy 290. Volunteers form assembly lines to organize cartons of fresh strawberries and boxes of cereal, pack up hundreds of grocery bags, and coordinate food distribution routes. Then they fan out to make their deliveries to needy families in the area.
“This is how we get to know our neighbors from all walks of life,” says Mandi McNutt, coordinator of the summer food assistance program called “School’s Out, Food’s In.” The SOFI program includes hundreds of volunteers who come together during the year to make sure neighborhood kids are being fed throughout the summer. “We help bridge the food gap when school’s out,” she says.
SOFI began simply enough when Mandi asked a question on Facebook in the spring of 2014. “I posted, ‘What does need look like in Dripping Springs?’ because I was wondering how we could best reach out to families who weren’t comfortable asking for help,” she recalls. “The response I got was overwhelming.”
Friends of friends shared her Facebook post, and soon ideas began pouring in for a summer food program that could “bridge the gap” for eligible families who had been receiving free and reduced-priced meals at school. Dripping Springs ISD agreed to send a SOFI flyer home with all students. Word spread fast, and many local businesses, civic groups, charities, and churches joined in to help. The group organized nonperishable food drives, and LockTite Storage offered a free unit to hold all the donations.
“Drivers signed up to make food deliveries from June through August. Then H-E-B partnered with us to provide fresh, healthy produce on Sundays, and things took off from there,” says Mandi.
SOFI assisted 166 kids in the Dripping Springs area in 2015 and 190 kids in 2016. This summer the group expects to provide food to even more children. The volunteers, however, often go above and beyond just delivering groceries. They’ve also provided services ranging from babysitting to air conditioner repair to tutoring, filling in the gaps wherever they may appear.
For example, recent Dripping Springs High School graduate Marisa Garza went from receiving SOFI assistance during her freshman year to becoming a SOFI coordinator/liaison by her senior year because of the positive guidance and encouragement she received from Mandi McNutt.
“At first I was really shy,” Marisa says, “but after a while, Mandi got to know my mom, and they became friends, so our two families started hanging out.”
They went to movies, played at Founders Park, and occasionally gathered at the McNutts’ for home-cooked meals. These interactions helped Marisa grow confident enough to join SOFI volunteers at the storage unit on Sundays. She was a natural at organizing and coordinating, two critical skills that helped her land a job at the local H-E-B, where she quickly began assisting with the weekly produce needs for SOFI volunteers. Marisa also helped her classmates at the high school coordinate their community service project hours with the SOFI program. Today, she considers SOFI a lifesaver because it provided her with so much more than just food.
According to Mandi, the ultimate goal for “School’s Out, Food’s In” is to build a stronger, more inclusive community in Drippings Springs. What better way to do so than by greeting a new neighbor with a warm hello and a delivery of groceries?
Summer 2017 deliveries are every Sunday, June 4th to August 20th.
“If I’m talking to a SOFI mom one day and she says, ‘Thanks, but we’re good,’ meaning her family doesn’t need our services anymore, then that’s great! We’ve done our work by helping a family get through a rough patch.”