In an affluent community like Mason, many kids spend after-school hours and weekends at dance classes or swim practice.
But such luxuries are an impossibility for a growing number of Mason families, who struggle to pay the bills and can’t afford these extras.
Now, thanks to a $20,000 grant from General Mills, the Mason Food Pantry is hoping to bridge that gap while emphasizing the importance of fitness and nutrition to children in need.
The pantry is one of 25 groups nationally to receive a grant through General Mills’ sales community grant program. Three other local organizations also received grants, including Girls on the Run of Greater Cincinnati, Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses and Life Pantry in Loveland.
Local General Mills sales offices nominate nonprofit organizations that work to alleviate hunger or advance nutrition wellness in their communities, said Tiffani Tekulve, an account manager at GM’s Mason sales office.
The Mason Food Pantry’s new program, Health Over Performance Fit Kids program, meets both of those goals, she said.
The program, which the pantry plans to roll out in the New Year, focuses on fitness assessment, professional development and recognition, said pantry director Gina Brown.
The goal is to minimize comparisons between kids while supporting them as they pursue personal fitness goals for lifelong health, she said.
“Kids all have different life experiences. Not everybody is a super-star basketball player,” said Brown. “We’re going to be taking a more holistic approach to obstacles children face.”
The program, which will serve children of all ages, seeks to get kids moving by providing them with access to after-school activities and fitness programs, like karate and gymnastics, in additional to more traditional sports programs.
Volunteers will also help teach kids skills that work to increase concentration, decision-making, teamwork and leadership.
The pantry launched a pilot program this summer and received positive feedback from students and parents. The General Mills grant will now allow them to expand the program from a weeklong summer camp into a school year-based curriculum.
The program is open to children of the more than 500 clients the pantry serves each month. There are no income or eligibility requirements, although clients must show proof of residency within the Mason School district.
Brown says she hopes the program not only teaches kids about healthy lifestyles, but also helps boost the confidence of those often left on the sidelines.
“There’s nothing worse than living in Mason and listening to your peers talk about dance class or archery and you have nothing to do because your parents cant afford it,” said Brown. “This helps them be like everyone else.”