Did you know that 33% of the school-aged children in Larimer County are receiving free and reduced meals? That’s an alarmingly large number, and it probably surprises you. In Thompson School District, that number rises to 50%. Fortunately, people like Mary Francis of Francis Home Mortgage are working to make a difference in our community and feed these children.
It was about five years ago that Mary was looking for a way to get more involved and connected to the Fort Collins community. She stumbled upon the Junior League and the first committee she joined was the Hunger Initiative. “I’ve been involved in community service since I was old enough to do it, through church and community in Pueblo, it’s always been something very special to me. I had a career in nonprofits and fundraising, but I’ve enjoyed it for my whole life. And so, to be able to do this, it’s wonderful. Junior League is a training program for women who can stay connected to the community,” Mary said. She was able to find something that she loved to pour her heart into.
The Hunger Initiative is a program that distributes healthy snacks to children across the Poudre and Thompson School Districts once a month. Volunteers pick up the snacks and deliver them to various schools where teachers hand out to children as they see necessary, which maintains confidentiality. However, it’s not limited to children who are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Of course, the program aims to provide the kids with healthy snacks including granola bars or fruit if possible.
Growing up, Mary herself was a student that qualified for free and reduced lunch. The Hunger Initiative was the perfect way for her to give back to the students in her community – students that she was once just like.
Although Mary had a passion for the mission that the Hunger Initiative has set out to accomplish, she had no intentions of becoming the chair of the program! She only joined as a committee member that wanted to deliver a few snacks once a month to kids. Shortly after joining, however, she found herself in this leadership role. When she first took over chair 5 years ago, the Hunger Initiative was only serving a few schools in the Poudre School District. Today, the program has expanded to cover 20 schools between the Poudre and Thompson School Districts. Over 600,000 snacks were delivered to children in need during this time.
Mary’s hard work and the resulting growth of the program earned her the Deanna McCrery award, which is an incredible honor. Named after another outstanding woman in our community, this award represents selflessness, a caring heart, and strength to go out and make a difference.
As a mother and business owner, Mary knows it’s not always easy to give back to the community. Sometimes her husband Kevin would help to deliver snacks, and she was also known to take her two children, Matthew and Ashley, along with her to pick up snacks from the Food Bank. Mary says that this is important experiential learning for the kids. “They know all about it and know that it’s important to be involved and give back to the community. No matter what age you are, you can do it,” she said.
Mary has just recently stepped down from her position as chair, confident that there is now someone just as passionate as she is about the program taking over the role. She’s ready to venture into other programs such as WomenGive, but of course will stick around with Hunger Initiative as a sustainer.
You can do it too! “As a business owner, we don’t always have the funds to give back. But we can always give our time,” she says. Thank you, Francis Home Mortgage, for demonstrating what it means to be We R Foco and a part of Fort Collins.