MANCHESTER, NH – Joe Mikol, general manager of Fueled By Kids, is dedicated to making sure that Manchester’s students have enough to eat. Each week he oversees the filling of 578 bags of foods, which are then distributed to at-risk students in Manchester schools, who otherwise might not have much to eat over the weekends, when meals provided by school are unavailable.
Mikol oversees purchasing and donations, and makes sure that the bags are prepared and delivered on time. Then, he works on his own school work, since Mikol is a kid himself.
“Before COVID we would have a bunch of volunteers come to a little building,” to prepare the bags, said Mikol, 16, a junior at Bedford High School. “All throughout summer, it was just my family packing the bags.”
Fueled By Kids is a nonprofit that was founded in 2016 by Mikol’s oldest sister, Grace, who is now a junior in college. She was at one of Mikol’s basketball games, when she started chatting to a social worker about food insecurity in the Manchester school system. Rather than just talking about the problem, Grace took action, starting a program that fed about 80 kids that year.
“Every year we’ve just progressed,” Mikol said.
When Grace left for college she handed control of Fueled By Kids to Hannah. When Hannah left, Mikol took over. His younger sister Kate, 14, knows that when Mikol graduates, it will be her turn to run things. For now, she’s helping to pack bags.
Although Fueled By Kids has always been a family-centered organization, the pandemic made it even more so. Normally, the organization relies on a stream of student volunteers from Bedford High School, but during COVID the Mikol family didn’t want to risk infection. So, they began packing the bags themselves again. Recently, they’ve recruited other members of the pandemic bubble to help too.
“At the beginning of the school year we started with my cousins and aunt, and close family friends that we have been spending time with,” Mikol said.
While the number of available volunteers was down, the demand for food was rising. Food insecurity has been a major issue during the pandemic, as people face job loss and other financial burdens. Overall, roughly 1-in-7 New Hampshire families don’t know where their next meal will come from.
“We realized there is a bigger need than we were originally providing, and we’re trying to help as much as we can,” Mikol said.
Fueled By Kids provided food all summer, which it hasn’t done in the past. The organization also steadily increased the amount of food it provided. In past years, the organization distributed about 470 bags of food, mostly to elementary-aged students. This year, they’re producing nearly 100 additional bags each week, and have expanded to provide for middle and high-school students.
“Originally our mission was to feed all the elementary kids, and once we were feeding all of them, to go up from there,” Mikol said.
They focus on providing food that kids can prepare themselves, if necessary, like pre-made sandwiches, microwaveable mac and cheese, and apples.
Last year, it cost about $85,000 to purchase the food. This year, since the nonprofit is providing more bags, costs will likely be up. At the same time, fundraising has been challenging because of the pandemic. Fueled By Kids had to cancel its largest fundraiser of the year in June, but many sponsors still donated, and the organization has continued reaching out to past donors directly.
During a time when social problems can seem overwhelming, Fueled By Kids shows the difference that one individual and one family can make, especially when they’re supported by the surrounding community.
“The big thing for us is we started small and did what we could at the beginning,” Mikol said. “We wanted to make sure the children who were getting free or reduced lunch at school wouldn’t go home and not have any food over the weekend.”
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