Friday, December 2, 2011

Retired naval commander going all-out to feed hungry children in Maine

I had the pleasure of serving with LCDR Bloom as she was our XO at the USS Constitution when I served there in 1997 & 1998 for the Bicentennial Celebration.

It's great to see she is continuing to serve those in need especially hungry kids.
Her website is

Please help her and the kids she serves.

Retired naval commander going all-out to feed hungry Seacoast children
Foster's daily Democrat - Maine

After retirement – What comes next?

For one retired officer, "next" means helping hungry children.

LCDR Claire Bloom retired from the Navy in 1998 from the USS Constitution, following which she started her own business teaching internet based courses to help students all over the world become certified in Integrated Resource Management.

More recently, however, she has a whole new gig.

In October 2010, at a women's book group meeting while discussing a book set in a highly impoverished area, a member of the group, who was also a teacher at a local elementary school, made the comment that she had children in her classroom who from the time they finished their free lunch on Friday, until the time they had their free breakfast on Monday, had nothing to eat.

Bloom decided at that very moment that she could not sit back and do nothing about this tragedy which existed right in her our own community, so after the holidays she contacted the local school superintendent's office and spoke with the homeless coordinator for the school system.

That person was able to point Bloom towards a number of national programs designed to eliminate this kind of weekend hunger. Bloom chose a plan based on a model used successfully all around the nation to get backpacks with non-perishable food in them to select children at the end of the school day on Friday.

The children would take the food home to eat during the weekend, and bring the empty backpack back to school on Monday, and it would be refilled for the following week.

It took her four and a half months to get her application for a 501 (c) (3) (Not for Profit) program approved by the IRS, and so in the middle of May 2011 she started working on the substance of the program.

The initial funding was her own and her husband's, but her first stop was the local branch of Bank of America, where she was welcomed wholeheartedly, and given a free checking account, checks, ten duffle bags, and her first team of volunteers as well as some guidance on applying for a grant from Bank of America.

Her second stop was Atlantic Mini Storage where she was offered a 10' x 30' storage unit with 24 hour access, a $2030 “in kind” contribution.

With a checking account and a place to store food and pack backpacks, she contacted Target and was given $250 in storage bins for the food, and Home Depot where she was given $75 in shelving.

Then came volunteer training where her first three teams were trained.

Her own church, St. John's United Methodist Church, discussed the project at a church council meeting and agreed to host a food drive every Sunday. the results of which would be divided between this project and the local Food Pantry. The church also agreed to sponsor a volunteer team as well. Thus far each week she has received enough food for two or three backpacks.

Her son's company, Newmarket International, agreed to sponsor a fundraising drive, so she picked up all the backpacks that the superintendent's office had and the Bank of America duffle bags, and took them all to Newmarket.

The employees filled 57 backpacks with food from the on line shopping list, and donated $750 through a raffle and direct contributions. They also agreed to be her third volunteer team.

Through a contact at Newmarket she was contacted by Prime North Acura, and they held a customer food drive in October and agreed to put together “goodie bags” for Halloween, for the December Vacation, and for the spring vacation, which will be added to the food in the backpacks.

She contacted all the local churches, and one invited her to share their booth at a local street fair. Since it costs approximately $500 per year to feed one child, she also invited individual sponsorship of either a week or a child.

The fourth team came from a local political group, and the fifth for those rare months in which there are five weeks from a church youth group.

The children enrolled in the program are identified by the guidance counselors and nurses at the three elementary schools, their parents are contacted and their agreement to their child's participation is secured, and the children are told what to expect all through the school system.

Neither Bloom nor her volunteers ever have any contact with any of these children. The program is totally anonymous.

Additional funding came from Liberty Mutual, the Walmart Foundation, and two local car dealerships.

The next challenge will be how to feed these children during school vacations.

The volunteer teams collect empty backpacks from the schools on Mondays, fill them, and deliver them back to the three elementary schools. She started with 26 children in the program and within one month the program had increased to 49 children.

A recent article about a similar program indicated that the first year the program started with 30 students, just as this one is. The next year there were 350 students enrolled.

She has already been contacted by two other towns about how they can capitalize on what she is doing. Since she already has the domain name, the website, the 501 (c)(3), the email address, the phone number, the mail box, the storage unit, and liability insurance a nearby town can join in quite easily with their own volunteers and additional contributions of funds and food.

Children who are hungry on the weekends probably exist in your own communities, and the organizational skills we learned in our military careers can help us all to help them. Together we can eliminate this challenge faced by young children through no fault of their own!

For more information, you can check out her program at

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