RACINE — Every Saturday morning, while many are sleeping in, a group of volunteers gather in the parking lot outside Horlick Field. Regardless of weather conditions, the group works from as early as 5 a.m. to provide food to a diverse group of Racine residents in need.
It is something Ron Tatum, one of the organizers of the Kingdom Manna food giveaway, said has become a weekly ritual for both the volunteers and the recipients for nearly nine years.
Headed by Kingdom Builders Fellowship, 2701 Rapids Drive, the giveaway is part of Feeding America. It began in the Kingdom Builders parking lot in 2009, helping 50 to 75 people each week.
Over the years, Tatum and Senior Pastor Leon Brown Sr. established partnerships that allowed the giveaway to grow to provide 2.8 million pounds of food to Racine families each year.
“We want to touch every household and every life,” said Tatum, director of community outreach and events for the Failure Is Not An Option Program at Kingdom Builders Fellowship.
The process runs like a well-oiled machine. Nearly 55 volunteers cooperate at the parking lot off Memorial Drive. A volunteer flags cars into a line where recipients wait in their cars — out of the elements — while volunteers prepare carts for them.
Once the recipients’ number is called, they wait in a line until they are handed a cart full of not only food, but toiletries, paper goods, hygiene products — even cat food, dog food and kitty litter, which they load into their cars.
When the day is done, four truckloads of food and household items have been distributed to nearly 200 Racine families each week.
“It’s really awesome,” said Brown. “You hear so many testimonies from people. We’ve developed a beautiful relationship with the community and that is something you can’t put a value on.”
Jayne Thompson of Racine, mother of 10, said the food giveaway has been a lifesaver for her family. Thompson’s family has grown after she adopted children that were placed in her home through foster care. She said she’s been participating in the giveaways for two years.
“It’s amazing what this does and what they give,” Thompson said. “It’s such a blessing.”
Each week, Thompson said, she looks forward to talking to people and hearing their stories. Most of the time, she said, the food giveaway allows families to afford things they might not have been able to afford before, such as diapers or gas and light bills.
Thompson now volunteers with Kingdom Builders, something Tatum said is common with the food giveaway: “Most of our volunteers were once recipients,” Tatum said.
Marilyn Walker, a freshman advocate at Case High School, 7345 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant, said a partnership with the food giveaway has also helped Case students.
Case has a program called Check In and Check Out for students struggling academically or otherwise. The program is split into three sections of approximately 40 to 50 students each.
Before partnering with the food giveaway in October, Walker said, the program had a difficult time providing incentives for students in the program. Since then, the giveaway has provided the program with cabinets of goodies as a way to incentivize struggling students.
“They were able to service us in ways we couldn’t imagine,” Walker said.
Case teachers also have participated in the program, with snacks provided by the giveaway to give to struggling students, as well as reward good behavior in students. The giveaway also has stepped in to help families needing food in their homes, Walker said.
“There is a need for our kids in these high schools, and not just academically,” Tatum said.
Growth through partnership
Tatum and Brown said the giveaway is possible due to the partnerships that were built in the community.
Partnerships include Feeding America, SC Johnson, Save-a-Lot, Heartland Produce, Festival Foods of Racine and Somers, ALDI, Gordon Food Service, Kwik Trips in Racine and Oak Creek, Gourmet Cheese of Kenosha, Associated Foods, UNFI, Target, Walmart, the Piggly Wiggly at 3900 Erie St. and the Racine Community Foundation.
“We could not do this alone,” Tatum said.