Collaborative Manchester meals program marks major milestone

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From left, Aimee Kereage of the Granite United Way, Steve Thiel of Southern New Hampshire University, Jenn Gillis of Manchester School District, and Jess Riendeau of the Granite YMCA pose for a photo with a proclamation from Mayor Joyce Craig recognizing the impact of the Fuel Our Families project. Kereage, Thiel, Gillis and Riendeau have been the driving force behind the project since it launched in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo/Courtesy

MANCHESTER – Over this past weekend, the Fuel Our Families program marked a major milestone: 185,000 weekend meal bags delivered since its inception just one year ago. 

During a brief ceremony last Thursday, Mayor Joyce Craig and representatives of the four organizations that have driven this effort – Southern New Hampshire University, Granite United Way, Granite YMCA and Manchester School District – reflected on the work and what it’s meant to the community. 

“When the pandemic hit, it became clear that food insecurity was going to be one of the major issues that we’d have to address,” said Stephen Thiel, Assistant Vice President for Social Impact & Community Relations at Southern New Hampshire University. “It took a different kind of partnership between Southern New Hampshire University, the Manchester School District, the City of Manchester, Granite YMCA and Granite United Way and within a year we hit 185,000 meals that have gone out to families in that time.”

Thiel and Jenn Gillis, assistant superintendent for operations for Manchester School District, have served as point people for their respective organizations, along with Aimee Kereage of the Granite United Way and Jess Riendeau from the Granite YMCA. Gillis noted the role that families themselves have played in making the program a success. 

“We truly want to thank our families for their willingness to work with us as we have been navigating the impacts of COVID-19,” Gillis said.  “We appreciate and value the trust you place in us.” 

From the start, volunteers have been eager to help. More than 288 volunteers have pitched in, completing a total of 2,000 volunteer hours. Meal bags are packed weekly at West High School and distributed at city schools, as well as through partner organizations, such as the Granite YMCA. 

“This is an extraordinary collaboration,” said David Ports, CEO of the Granite YMCA. “The YMCA feels very lucky to be a trusted organization along with all of you to help do this work and meet a desperate need in our community.” 

Fuel Our Families is completely funded through donations. In all, $779,877 has been raised for the effort, with large contributions coming from SNHU, Albertson’s Foundation, Bean Foundation and Cogswell Benevolent Trust. 

 “This has been a tremendous effort to address food insecurity in our community,” said Mayor Joyce Craig. “While I’m cautiously optimistic right now with warm weather coming and vaccines becoming more available, but the efforts to make sure our students and families are fed can’t end right now. We need to keep up on these efforts, and as mayor of our city I’m very grateful for all that you’ve done.”

Volunteers and donations are still needed. You can sign up to volunteer as an individual or as part of a group at http://bit.ly/FuelOurFamilies. You can make a donation by texting MANCHESTER to 41444.