By Linda Chion
The Project Smile initiative founded and embraced by the Kiwanis Club of Greater Brandon and the Mosaic Company in Riverview almost 10 years ago continues to this day, growing from an outreach serving roughly 125 kids a week to a community drive meeting the needs of some 1,000 children and adults monthly.
That’s the word from Kiwanian and Mosaic retiree Mike Daigle, who credits the founding of Project Smile at Gibsonton Elementary School to an article his wife, Janet Daigle, read in Parade magazine about a mother and child in California who distributed weekend food backpacks to children at an inner-city school to ensure they had enough to eat when school food programs were not available. Noting Mosaic’s mission to “help the world grow the food it needs,” Janet asked her husband, “Shouldn’t your company do something like this?”
Now, with a Mosaic grant, Feeding Tampa Bay contract, Gibsonton Elementary School’s support and Kiwanis club volunteers and fundraising as needed, perishable and nonperishable food items are distributed weekly on Thursdays. The food items are packed and distributed from a vacant classroom refurbished into an on-site food pantry by Publix, which donated shelves and refrigeration.
Inside the food pantry on April 14, Kiwanian Gordon Sanford filled Project Smile bags with cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, vegetable cans, rice, pasta and chili. Outside, Kiwanians Mike and Eddie Jenkins distributed food boxes containing canned goods, ham, oranges and bread. Bus riders receive the bags and families that drive through Thursdays between 2 and 4 p.m. receive the boxes.
According to Mike, the outreach costs roughly $25,000 a year, plus another $6,000 for the bags.
“Mosaic donates bags and gives us a grant that covers 80 to 90 percent of the cost of the food,” Mike said. “We sign an annual contract with Feeding Tampa Bay and we have enough money in reserves to cover the costs at least a year in advance if necessary.”
“This is what Kiwanis is all about,” Sanford said, “helping children in the community.”
The Brandon Kiwanis Club meets alternating Thursdays at The Bridges in Riverview at 8 a.m. and at La Septima Café in Brandon at 5:30 p.m. Visit www.brandonkiwanis.org for more information.