NORWALK – No one could have predicted how timely Kevin Lindwall’s Eagle project would be for the Room to Grow Preschool’s Food Pantry. Director Nancy Owens had tasked her Advisory Board with the mission to save money for building out industrial sized cabinets in one of the preschool’s meeting rooms to make room for their new Food Pantry, but as luck would have it board member Mary Ann Lindwall’s son Kevin was facing challenges of his own with his original Eagle Scout project. Mary Ann suggested Kevin pivot the project to Room to Grow’s cabinets and food pantry buildout.
Room to Grow had considered leveraging builders for custom cabinets, but the quotes they were receiving neared $15,000. Every dollar Room to Grow saved on the build out could be used to buy groceries to stock the new Food Pantry and feed the center’s families. Room to Grow’s Advisory Board Chair Tom Van Riper knew Kevin was up to the task. “Kevin comes from a long line of Lindwall builders in Fairfield County,” states Van Riper. “I knew he was up to the task and supported Kevin making the Food Pantry for Room to Grow as his Eagle Scout project. It was a win-win for all involved.”
The project entailed creating a new storage room for the Room to Grow teaching staff supplies in order to turn the old storage room into a food pantry for the families of the students. Kevin led a team of 12 workers, ranging from youth to adults, with a mix of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who devoted over a combined 100 hours.
No one at Room to Grow realized how lifesaving their little food pantry would become! Room to Grow’s original plan was to open the pantry sometime in the late spring … then Covid happened. Room to Grow had to shut down the pre-school for what Owens thought would be 2 weeks. “Three months later we reopened and the children started to return slowly with all of the necessary precautions in place,” states Owens. “When Room to Grow closed in March, we had 132 families. We currently have 91 families enrolled due to impact of the pandemic.”
One week into the preschool’s shutdown, the families were seeking help. Many of the working class families impacted by the pandemic had lost their jobs. They couldn’t afford to put food on their tables. The staff of Room to Grow sprang into action to meet their needs and help support them. Overnight the Room to Grow Preschool Food Pantry opened. The staff started by distributing all of their snack foods, cleaning out the closets and freezers; distributing all the items that would have been used to feed the children if they were attending school. During the second week of shut down, the generosity of a couple of previous donors helped to fill the shelves and Room to Grow began weekly Food Pantry distributions on March 27th, which ran for the next 23 weeks until all funds were exhausted.
During this time the preschool served anywhere from 43 to 72 families, which included a 105 to 172 children. Room to Grow sourced food for the pantry and funding through a variety of ways including, but not limited to, the City of Norwalk’s School lunch program, a philanthropic foundation that has continued to support Room to Grow, Al’s Angels, Filling In The Blanks, and a grant from the Point72 Employee Giving Foundation.
Room to Grow Preschool is a program of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County which has provided an affordable pre-school option for working families in Norwalk for the past 25 years. Room to Grow is a State licensed and Nationally Accredited preschool facility that provides high quality care and education for children ages 3 to 5 years old who reside in Norwalk, Connecticut. The facility capacity is 83 children; all grant funded through a School Readiness grant which requires that you are a resident of the City of Norwalk. These spots are available on a sliding fee scale based on family income.
Written by Tom Van Riper, Edited by Amy Zajac