Founded in 2013, Mobile School Pantry (MSP) was established by one woman with a dream and mission, her red VW Jetta, and a strong desire to help children and families in need of food.
Somedays I cannot believe I am that woman – living the dream, accomplishing my mission (thanks to ALL of you), and fulfilling my desire to help families with their nutritional needs for good health, family stability, and a child’s success in school.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Zeina Zein-Wolland, Founder of Mobile School Pantry – most people call me, “Z”!
When I was in my early 20’s I began working at our local food bank, Feeding South Florida (FSF). My role was to visit soup kitchens and food pantries in Broward and Monroe County during distributions to the community. Visiting these sites opened my eyes to the faces of hunger, and I was forever changed. There were several woman and children in lines – working parents, single parents and veterans. I was shocked and infuriated that children and families, here in South Florida, were going to bed hungry.
We live in a nation where society does not entirely acknowledge these kind of issues in our local communities, especially when it seemed incredibly relevant. I questioned how this was possible in a nation with unlimited resources? With an abundance of food? That day a seed was planted.
In 2011, I left the Feeding South Florida with a heavy heart, but a newfound understanding and commitment. I followed my mentor and former boss Julie, from FSF, and joined her at the Education Fund (EF) in Miami-Dade. While at EF, I assisted and worked with Julie on Food Forests for Schools (formerly Edible Garden Initiative), which uses edible gardens and Food Forests as outdoor learning laboratories in Miami-Dade County’s public elementary schools to instill in children the desire to eat nutritious food while learning to care for the environment; and the Art of Found Objects/For Love of Art Gala, a fundraising showcase and auction featuring more than 200 unique artworks created by students and teachers in Miami-Dade’s public schools.
In 2012, I joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) working as a School and Youth Coordinator, later working on the Man and Woman of the Year Gala. During my time at LLS I helped facilitate school assemblies and noticed that several students were approaching their teachers stating they were hungry. Again I was shocked and saddened to see how helpless children were going hungry here in our community. I felt a calling to do something, but didn’t know how yet.
In November 2013, I received a call from a friend asking if I knew of any places, or people, in need of a Thanksgiving meal. I immediately thought of those children telling their teachers they were hungry and decided to reach out to the Principal at Stirling Elementary to see if I could arrange to provide a few families with a Thanksgiving meal. After connecting me with the school social worker, who was able to give me the names of 13 families, I arranged for the meals to be delivered the day before and day of Thanksgiving.
That thanksgiving will forever hold a special place in my heart, and so will those 13 families.
The next day it dawned on me – this was it, this was how I could help – a food pantry in low income schools. It was the best place to reach the most vulnerable children. After extensive research I realized that there wasn’t a similar service being provided in South Florida. In response, I began Mobile School Pantry.
I presented the idea to Alfred Dobronz, Principal of Stirling Elementary, which he loved, because we would be able to provide a much needed service at his school. And so it began…the seed was starting to grow.
I remember my first distribution in March 2014. Still trying to figure out the Pantry set up, I packed boxes for those 13 families and made my rounds in my little red VW Jetta with pure joy. In May 2014, we had our first official set up in a spare room at the school. What a day that was! I cannot express the nerves and excitement while heading down to Farmshare, a food bank in Homestead, to pick up our first items for our first distribution.
As I began this exciting journey, I continued to work at LLS, as the income I made while working there helped with the fees needed to incorporate a non-profit, and monies needed to purchase additional food items when needed. In 2015, I left LLS to prepare for the arrival of my beautiful son Luca, and to focus on my other baby, Mobile School Pantry.
Since those early days, the seed has grown.
Mobile School Pantry has come a long way. We now are at Three elementary schools, serving over 500 families. We just received funding for additional schools, and thanks to a $20,000 donation from AFT and AFSCME, we have a new school bus. This bus is in the process of being retrofitted and will allow families to board the bus, on school campus, to conduct their shopping allowing us to reach more students and families in need.
One person or organization cannot solve the hunger problem alone. It will take several individuals and establishments. Each of us has to use our strongest personality traits, skills and talents to overcome hunger in South Florida.
The more we work together, the more we can ensure that no one goes to bed hungry in our communities.
Several individuals must be acknowledged for the roles they played in helping me reach various milestone in my life and in my organization. I have been truly blessed with a soul-filled group of “inspirers”… friends, family, donors and volunteers who never cease to amaze me with their inner strength and beauty. Their steadfast commitment and dedication to our growth is forever appreciated.
YOU are ALL a priceless gift and a much-needed component of my success. Thank you for believing in my mission, and me. Thank you for your encouragement, support and generosity. I am overwhelmed with happiness every day and I am forever grateful.
My dream has become a reality & that seed is blossoming every day. Zeina Zein-Wolland