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Feeding the solution

Matt Pais

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MDRT members and the MDRT Foundation work to fight food insecurity.

In 2020, the MDRT Foundation awarded four grants that amounted to $42,500 for food-insecurity programs. In 2021, those numbers jumped to 17 grants that totaled $83,100, driven by twice as many food-insecurity requests through the MDRT Foundation and the scarcity exacerbated by the pandemic.

The 2021 awards included a $5,000 MDRT Foundation grant for No Kid Hungry’s Breakfast After the Bell program, received with the support of Vanessa Y. Bucklin, MBA, CLU, an eight-year MDRT member from Conrad, Montana, USA.

Through the program, all students eat breakfast together at school, removing the stigma of kids receiving subsidized meals. Traditionally, only children who receive breakfast food subsidies eat at school, while other students eat at home — drawing a clear line between the haves and the have-nots. The program not only ensures that all kids start the day off with a nourishing meal to help them learn, it also creates an opportunity for kids to learn about manners, social interactions at the table and teamwork.

Bucklin has been involved with the organization for nearly a decade, since she sought to put her practice’s core value of giving back to the community into action. After learning that one in five children in Montana don’t know where their next meal is coming from, she helped launch End Hunger Games, an annual triathlon for kids ages 5 to 14 for which registration fees go to support No Kid Hungry. The goal was multifold: to raise awareness about the issue; to create an event in which kids compete to help other kids; to foster the sort of outdoor activity — in this case, swimming, biking and running — that is sometimes lost in our modern, digital era; and to raise funds for the organization.

Yet Bucklin, a triathlete herself, says the real financial support has been tangential to the triathlon. After all, she lives in a town of 2,500, and an average of 50 kids participate in the triathlon each year. (Each athlete, including Bucklin’s three children, is asked to bring a can of food to donate to a local food bank.) Through the event, however, Bucklin has secured multiple grants to help support No Kid Hungry’s mission, including from New York Life and her independent property and casualty agency’s carrier, in addition to the MDRT Foundation.

The issue of food insecurity has become exacerbated during the pandemic, as kids who would normally receive food at school spent months not attending in-person classes. It’s why Bucklin’s husband, a school superintendent, drove all over the region delivering food each day, which sometimes was the only meal some children would have.

The MDRT Foundation has always worked to combat food insecurity, which was exacerbated during the pandemic when children were not able to attend in-person classes.

No Kid Hungry is not the only organization that received funding. With support from Godfried Wouters, a 30-year MDRT member from Aarschot, Belgium, the MDRT Foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to the Mbabaali Memorial School for Orphans in Uganda. The money will help fund crop production and the acquisition of animals as part of the school’s efforts to become self-reliant through the maintenance of its own farm.

Wouters’ connection to the school began in 2013 when he participated in a playground build through the MDRT Foundation and got to know its headmaster, James Kyeyune. Kyeyune was asked to take over after the school’s founder, his father, passed away. Kyeyune moved his family from South Africa to Uganda to help more than 800 children who attend school and sleep there during the week. That effort has inspired Wouters, who in the last few years has built additional playgrounds, financed mosquito nets and helped
provide 25,000 meals.

“Every year we try to do something for the school,” said Wouters, who brings school supplies whenever he returns to Uganda and emails with Kyeyune on a regular basis to maintain contact and motivation. “It’s not a drop in the ocean. Absolutely not.”

Kyeyune bought the land for the farm so kids could learn professions such as caring for animals and carpentry, as well as to help with growing crops that can provide food for the schools. “He tries not to always ask for money and instead said, ‘I will do it myself,’” Wouters said.

Contact

Vanessa Bucklin vanessa@pciconrad.com

Godfried Wouters godfried@godfriedwouters.be

 

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