In March 2016, Leslie Valentine Bishop cut out an article in Attraction magazine about CarePacks of Talbot County, a program in Talbot County aimed to prevent weekend hunger among Talbot County’s most economically vulnerable students.
Leslie recalls, “The article was inspiring. I carried the article around for a year before deciding to establish Meals til Monday to provide weekend food for food-insecure children in Dorchester County. This would also be a way to honor my mother, who had died from cancer in 2015. Like me, she had a passion for addressing children’s hunger issues in Florida where she lived.”
Having been a parent volunteer and an English as a Second Language Instructional Assistant in Howard County, Leslie was committed to making a difference in the lives of children in Dorchester County where she now lived. While researching hunger in Maryland, Leslie learned that one in six Maryland children doesn’t always know where their next meal will come from. In Dorchester County, all school children in grades Pre-K-12 receive free breakfast and lunch in school every day. Leslie wanted to address how these same children got fed when they weren’t in school over the weekends and on extended holidays.
“Hungry children cannot learn; they cannot concentrate on anything beyond their empty bellies. Undernourished students are more likely to experience illness and fatigue; are sick more frequently and take longer to recover. Lack of nutritious food impacts a child’s ability to perform well in school and causes behavioral, emotional, and academic problems,” she adds.
Meals til Monday began in Leslie’s kitchen serving 25 children at Vienna Elementary School. In 2017, the organization became a non-profit charity under the sponsorship of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation and started purchasing food from the Maryland Food Bank with Leslie becoming its volunteer director. By February 2020, the program had grown to serve 500 children in seven public schools in Dorchester County – Vienna Elementary School, Maple Elementary School, Choptank Elementary School, Sandy Hill Elementary School, Maces Lane Middle School, Cambridge-South Dorchester High School, and North Dorchester High School. The organization hopes to serve North Dorchester Middle School in the future. Food bags are currently distributed from nine sites in Dorchester County. In February 2020, the organization began packing and storing food at the Salvation Army facility in Cambridge and also partners with the Salvation Army for food assistance efforts locally.
“We have reached deep into the community to make sure that meals are available to everyone,” Leslie comments.
When COVID-19 happened in March 2020, the organization began delivering 1,100 bags a week to children in Dorchester County and has continued doing so through June 30, 2020. Delivering a total of 15,000 bags has required the dedicated work of 50 volunteers logging in over 400 hours a month to get the job done.
“One example of the level of dedication we are seeing in our volunteers is our volunteer Ronda Herman from Maple Elementary School who, throughout the pandemic, has delivered 100 bags a week personally to the homes of students from her school who had been receiving bags when school was open. Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the program and are passionate believers in our mission. Many of our volunteers have shared their stories of suffering from a lack of food themselves during their childhood,” Leslie states.
Meals til Monday volunteers pack the bags of food, organize food drives, assist with large food distributions at partner schools, and deliver food bags to the schools. In each food bag, a child receives a minimum of 12 items for each two day weekend and more for extended time off from school and in the summer months, including cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, fresh fruit and fruit cups, non-perishable whole and chocolate milk, soups, and pudding. The organization works with the school system and other community partners to ensure Dorchester County’s children can thrive and reach their fullest potential.
The organization also created another program, Meals til Morning, which is focused on providing high school students who are not in a stable environment and may not have access to food in the evening. This “grab and go” program is available to any high school students who want a bag of overnight food.
Leslie was recently recognized with the 2019 William Donald Shaefer Helping People Award for Dorchester County recognizing her work and the work of her team of volunteers who continue to work tirelessly to provide meals for students of Dorchester County. Since 2017, Meals til Monday has distributed 500,000 pounds of food to children in Dorchester County.
Private donations and grants help purchase food from the Maryland Food Bank (Eastern Shore) and other sources for our programs. All contributions go toward the purchase of food, only, and are tax-deductible. Meals til Monday is a registered 501(c)3 under the fiscal sponsorship of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation and is an all-volunteer organization. For further information or to donate, visit www.midshoremealstilmonday.org, or call 443-225-6789 or email Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization welcomes donations of non-perishable food items and also accepts fresh produce from growers and farmers.