LAKE BUENA VISTA – Tom Brannigan was at Walt Disney World this morning to accept an award during a business trade show, but it wasn’t recognition for business techniques, improved sales and marketing, or other industry innovations. Brannigan was there to be recognized for the growing number of school children he feeds.
“We’re up to six schools now that we work with,” said Brannigan, the founder of the Green Bag Project. “We have other schools on a waiting list. We can’t take them on until we know we’ve got the money and support lined up.”
There’s a good reason so many schools want his help. Using Green Bag, Brannigan has built up this volunteer, non-profit effort into a thriving collaboration between local school districts on one hand, and businesses and civic groups on the other, that are assisting him in his central mission: to ensure that Central Florida’s school students get a good meal while they’re at school, and don’t go home hungry.
One of the schools that Brannigan now works with is Westside K-8 Elementary School in Four Corners, which has agreed to host a special party for students on Friday, Dec. 9 that will reflect the goals that Brannigan has worked so hard for.
“We’re having a big party for the kids at Westside, and we’re expecting 500 of them to attend,” he said. “It’s going to be almost all kids. We’re going to be feeding them, and we have a lot of food set up. Santa is going to be there, and there will be a lot of activities going on. And when they leave, we’re going to be giving them a lot of food to take home.”
This morning, Brannigan attended the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association’s annual Trade Show, held every November – this year at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort Convention Center. Brannigan set up a booth to provide information about Green Bag Project, what it does, and how to learn more about it – and to donate to it.
The association also planned to recognize Brannigan for his efforts.
“We’re giving a check to the Green Bag operation for donating to all the little kids so they can eat in school,” said Jeff Chase, a member of the CFVRMA’s board of director and the moderator of the trade show.
The association has been honoring Green Bag Project all year. Late in 2010, the association voted to make Green Bag Project its charity for the year, and every month members were asked to donate to it. Brannigan said that has been of enormous assistance to his ongoing charitable efforts throughout 2011.
“It’s been very helpful,” he said. “They’ve focused on one school, Loughman Oaks Elementary, and their contributions have allowed us to keeping stocking their food supply. There are about 100 kids at this one school alone, at Loughman Oaks, that we feed.”
Green Bag Project is a program based at 1503 Legends Drive in ChampionsGate, which collects and distributes food to needy families. It started modestly more than a year ago, with volunteers dropping off green shopping bags in local neighborhoods, with notes attached asking people to put any spare food they could offer inside it. The bags were collected, and the food was given to local food pantries.
From that modest start, the Green Bag Project has grown considerably, helped by the fact that a rising number of business organizations have signed on to assist Brannigan. There’s even a web site now, www.green-bag-project.org, and the non-profit opened four summer feeding locations on U.S. 192 this past summer, as special locations where kids could stop by to get a free lunch.
CFVRMA is one of the program’s leading supporters. The association is a trade group representing the fast-growing number of vacation homes in Osceola and Polk counties, where fully furnished homes are rented to tourists on a short term basis as they visit the region and local theme parks.
All of this help, Brannigan said, it sorely needed. There are estimated to be nearly 1,000 children living in cramped motel rooms along U.S. 192, from Four Corners to Kissimmee, because their parents can’t afford to come up with the money to get into an apartment or house. A lot of them were being bused to Westside as their neighborhood school, although Brannigan said that just recently, a number of these students got transferred to Celebration k-8 Elementary School – so Green Bag Projected adopted that school as well.
“About 100 of the motel kids were reassigned from Westside to Celebration,” he said. “This year the school district broke that up a little bit.”
What it highlights, he said, is the sad reality of the impact the recession has had on Central Florida’s neediest families, many of them unable to afford to buy food for their children. They rely on the local schools to feed their kids.
That’s why Green Bag Project decided to sponsor the Christmas Party at Westside, Brannigan said.
“We have 350 kids that we’ve invited, and that’s the homeless population of the two schools,” he said. It also explains why he plans to send food home with the students.
This year, Green Bag Project is expanding its goals, and not just collecting food items, but also rice cookers that the students can take home to their families, and use as another way to cook meals in their motel room.
“We want to give them small rice cookers,” he said. “A lot of them only have a microwave in their motel rooms. We want to give them another way to cook. We hope to have 100 donations of rice cookers by the time we throw the party.”
The Christmas Party will be held from 5-9 p.m. Westside is at 2551 Westside Boulevard in Four Corners, and can be reached by calling 407-390-1748.
Green Bag Project is also launching a program asking area residents to feed a child every weekend for one month for $20. Every donation that Green Bag receives goes to pay for a “Back Pack” of weekend food that will be distributed to more than 500 area children in need of assistance.
To learn more, call 407-396-0730.
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