Tampa Bay Newswire: Community Members Bring Meals to Families

May 21, 2020

A child with curly brown hair, with a book in hand, smiling
A young boy with his head popping out of a jungle gym at a park

May 21, 2021 | Tampa

As part of the agency’s efforts to address continued food insecurity amongst its families, local members of the community teamed up with Paradise Grill restaurant in Nokomis to bring chef-prepared meals to each of the children and families who attend Children First, Sarasota County’s exclusive provider of Head Start and Early Head Start services.

1,700 meals were distributed to families in need across Sarasota County thanks to the generosity of six local couples and an individual supporter of Children First along with Paradise Grill restaurant in Nokomis. In a two-day effort, meals were individually prepared and packaged on-site at the restaurant and delivered to five distribution sites by Children First front line workers. The meal distribution sites included the Dr. Elaine Marieb Early Learning Center and Helen R. Payne Annex in Sarasota, Our Mother’s House (a partnership site with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice) and the Children First main campuses in Venice and North Port.

“When I heard that my long-time friend and client, Mary Beth Hansen, was offering meals for local residents in need, I decided to reach out to Children First. Knowing the challenge we are all living through with this virus, but especially for those who are already vulnerable, everyone quickly got on board. Before we knew it, there were vans being loaded with 1,700 dinners going out to families. We truly believe in the outstanding work provided by this agency and are so pleased to help keep its mission moving forward each day,” says long-time Children First supporter and Commercial Realtor Stan Rutstein.

He, along with wife Jo, a former Chair of the Board of Directors, realized an opportunity to activate their friends in support of children and families living at-risk. Current Board Chair Mike Keebaugh and wife Andree, Carol and Richard Kalikow, Faith and Michael Goldman, Norma and Al Cohen, Ginny and Ravi Akhoury, and Ernest ‘Doc’ Werlin joined the Rutsteins to provide support and within days, the chefs at Paradise Grill were in the kitchen cooking up delicious meals and the Children First staff mobilizing to distribute the food.

Annually, the agency provides full wrap-around services for more than 900 children and their families, including infant and toddler care, early childhood education, nutrition and health care, emotional & behavioral support, and parenting classes through the Families First Institute. 89% of families served were already living below the Federal Poverty Level, and with the economic strain from COVID-19, more than 70% of those families are now seeking additional necessities such as food, financial assistance, and supplies like diapers, wipes, and infant formula.

“In these times of great uncertainty, our families are the first to get hurt and the last to recover. We are truly grateful to Paradise Grill and our incredible supporters who teamed up to make sure that not just every child, but every family member received a hot meal,” says CEO Philip Tavill.

“We’re doing our best to feed as many in our community as possible because we believe no one should ever have to go hungry,” says Mary Beth Hansen, owner of Paradise Grill. “Our team also believes deeply in the Children First mission of strengthening children and families, because we are stronger together.”

Watch the video here!