BATA Delivers Hope in Tough Times
(To read this article as it appeared in the Brookings Register, click here.)
The Brookings Area Transit Authority (BATA) does more than deliver people to workplaces and grocery stores and doctor's offices around town. It also delivers hope to hungry children, one week of food at a time.
Starting in mid-October, 2009, BATA began helping to feed local school children through BBP, transporting from Sioux Falls the canned goods, juice boxes, cereals and other foodstuffs that BBP distributes each week to the youngsters it serves.
Every Tuesday a BATA vehicle pulls into the Community Food Banks of South Dakota in Sioux Falls. Once loaded with a week's supply of groceries, it returns to Brookings and delivers its cargo to the BBP Staging Site, located near the airport. On Wednesday evening that food is sorted by BBP volunteers into individual "goody bags," as one child in the program calls them. Then, on Thursday and Friday, the foodbags are distributed to participating students at Head Start and each of the Brookings schools.
This past Tuesday's 106-mile round trip to the Food Banks was BATA's eleventh. Each week the BATA driver, either Paul Mullaney or John Finley (pictured above), has hauled an average of 400 pounds of groceries. That makes a total of more than two tons of hope for Brookings children in need.
BATA Executive Director Brenda Schweitzer estimates that her agency spends around $50 per week to help BBP. "Why not?" Schweitzer says. "BATA goes to Sioux Falls every weekday anyway, because during the school year we're contracted with the Brookings school district to transport a few children there. Especially in these tough times, we nonprofit organizations need to collaborate with each other. That way we're not duplicating services, and we're making the best possible use of our funds."
Schweitzer works closely with BBP Food Manager Darlene Dokken to coordinate the food deliveries. When necessary, she may even alter BATA's routine to accommodate BBP's schedule, which fluctuates with school holidays and inclement weather. Wintry weather poses a particular challenge, Schweitzer admits, as does BBP's rapid growth.
BBP started the school year serving 80 students; this week it will serve 212. The food shipments have nearly outgrown the BATA van that typically makes the Sioux Falls trip. Schweitzer says that while "there's room for flexibility" in the size of vehicle being used, the logistics could get trickier as BBP adds more children to its rolls and requires even greater quantities of food. She stresses, however, that BATA will work with that situation as it arises.
Darlene Dokken applauds BATA for its generous support. "Because of BATA, we don't have to find volunteers (with big vehicles) to make the trip to Sioux Falls and back every week, in good weather and bad. We don't have to spend three hours every week traveling and loading boxes. We don't have to pay for a third party to deliver the food to Brookings -- instead, we can use that money to feed more children.
"This is just one more example," Dokken says, "of how this entire community is pitching in to help the Brookings Backpack Project. We care about the kids. That's what this is all about."