When Denise Hoffman learned about the school division’s Beach Bags program last school year, she contacted Christopher Farms Elementary School (CFES) counselor Betsy Hobbs to inquire about contributing to the program.
“I was going through my children’s folders and I came across the Beach Bags application,” said Hoffman. “I had no idea that there would be qualifying students in the school.”
The program provides shelf-stable meals and healthy snacks to students who might otherwise go hungry over weekends. Beach Bags is supported entirely through financial and food donations from community members, area businesses and school and student organizations. Students receive food on select Friday afternoons to take home in their backpacks for the weekend.
“Thankfully I’m not in need of the application,” wrote Hoffman in her email to Hobbs, “but I would like to make a donation. Where can I do that?”
Hobbs, who is now retired, asked Hoffman to come see her at her convenience.
Hoffman, a new parent to CFES, had not yet met Hobbs, but visited the next day with her checkbook when she dropped off her children. However, the school counselor was in search of a contribution that was not financial. Hobbs explained to Hoffman that she wanted to supplement the Beach Bags program and provide food to CFES children in need every Friday of the month but added that she couldn’t do it by herself.
Hoffman recalled, “She asked me, ‘Since you took an interest by sending me that email, would you like to do this?’ And for me, at that time, I was looking for something rewarding to do. I just wanted to give back a little more, and my kids are at the school full-time. So I told Mrs. Hobbs, ‘I’m your girl!’”
“When she found out that the Beach Bags program was only able to feed our children every three weeks, she made it a personal goal to ensure our students in this population went home with food every single weekend as well as long breaks,” said CFES principal Teri Breaux.
Now, more than a year later, Hoffman continues to visit the school every Friday to put together Beach Bags for the school’s qualifying students. She’s moved the endeavor from her family’s garage, where she began collecting and storing donations from CFES teachers and friends, to a small closet in the school’s main office, where she keeps several shelves stocked with food for her weekly work.
“Mrs. Hoffman clips coupons and bargain shops the area grocery stores to determine how to get the most bang for her buck,” said Sara Nichols, the CFES school counselor who replaced Hobbs when she retired.
Hoffman’s shopping has been made easier thanks to a generous donation from an area business. “In December of last year,” she said, “we were fortunate enough to receive a $1,000 donation through a teacher’s friend who is an executive at Hooters. It supported our work through the remainder of the year, and they were kind enough to do it again this year. Now we have a system going – we have a program. It is very gratifying.”
Also gratifying to Hoffman is the work she and her husband do to facilitate the WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program at CFES. The couple spoke with Breaux about their interest in replicating the program used at their children’s former elementary school, and, according to Breaux, “the program has been a huge success for our school and community.”
“They organized a pizza night kickoff and created an organizational system to communicate with dads,” said Breaux. “The students and staff love having the dads in the building to help build strong, positive relationships.”
Hoffman created and maintains a WATCH D.O.G.S. “Wall of Fame” in the cafeteria to highlight the dads who participate. However, Hoffman’s work is not in the spotlight.
“Most of her time volunteering is spent behind closed doors,” said Breaux. “As great Samaritans often do, very few individuals at Christopher Farms know the true angel behind this project as Mrs. Hoffman quietly slips in and out of the office to do her good deed each week, looking for no recognition.”
Recognition, however, found Hoffman. She was named Christopher Farms’ Volunteer of the Year. Her hope is that the accolade brings more recognition to the Beach Bags program and more widespread acknowledgment that every school has children in need who the community can support.
“When the kids are not in school, what do they do for meals,” Hoffman asked. “It was really eye-opening for me. So any attention paid to me as a volunteer is really attention for the program. I’m happy to shine a spotlight on this need.”
Visit vbschools.com to learn more about the school division’s Beach Bags program. To find opportunities to volunteer in VBCPS schools, visit the division’s Get Connected page at vbschools.com/getconnected. For more information about the Volunteers in Education program as a whole, visit the page to learn more about the service of VBCPS volunteers.