Volunteers helped prepare meals for kids

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Pictured are many of the volunteers who have been helping the Okeechobee County Schools Food Service Program as they provide meals for the children of Okeechobee.

OKEECHOBEE — A celebration was staged at Okeechobee High School Thursday, June 18, in honor of the volunteers who have helped prepare meals for the children of Okeechobee. Many of these volunteers are children themselves, and spend hours every week serving others.

The majority of the volunteers are family members of employees and learned of the need through those employees.

Lisa Bell, Okeechobee County schools’ food service director, arranged the celebration because several of the people who have been volunteering are finishing up their last week, and she wanted to thank them for all the help they have given over the last few months. She mentioned Shirley Raulerson, who has been volunteering since day one but missed the celebration, because she left town this week on a much-needed vacation. Ms. Raulerson didn’t miss a single day until she left on her trip. She got so hot while working one day they had to stick her in the refrigerator to cool her off, but she still came back the next day. Crystal Harris and her children Tyrone and Kyla were also unable to make it to the gathering, but Jeneane Rhuda, who supervises the meal preparation site at South Elementary School, said she wanted to be sure they weren’t left out, because they have been volunteering since the beginning, too.

Ms. Bell mentioned Anita Nunez, whose sister Rosa works in the food service department. “This girl started at the very beginning, and she has toted the load,” she said. “She has absolutely been in the trenches with us all the way to the bottom. I just can’t say enough about what she has done to help us, and I hate that you are leaving.” All of the employees chimed in in agreement, and one said, “Just because Rosa is leaving doesn’t mean you have to.” Rosa’s daughter, Sally, has also volunteered throughout the entire time they have been sending meals into the neighborhoods as well and has been a big help, she said.

She went on to talk about each of the children and thanked them for all the things they have done to help. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Kaiya is one of the volunteers. She started joining her mom about a week ago and plans to keep helping out as long as her mom continues working there.

Ms. Nunez volunteered when her sister told her there was a need. She wanted to give something back to the community. She loves children and enjoys making them smile, so she thought volunteering would be perfect for her. She did a little of everything, from sorting and packing the food to riding the bus and passing out food to the kids.

Sally said her favorite thing about volunteering is the look on the children’s faces when they get their lunches. “Some of them get so excited!” She goes to the library sometimes and loves to see the same faces each time. She has enjoyed meeting a lot of new people, she said.

Jalisianah likes helping people and feeding the community. She gets to go to the feeding sites, and loves seeing the big smiles on the kids’ faces when they come get their lunches. She has helped in hurricane shelters in the past, so she is an experienced volunteer. Her mom works at the Freshman Campus.

Cadence is glad to be a volunteer. Her mom works for the food service department, and brings Cadence along as a volunteer. She gets to go on the bus with her mom, and that is her favorite part.

Zoey is Cadence’s cousin, and she is visiting in Okeechobee. She has been volunteering, too, and said she thinks helping is cool and it makes her happy to see the kids enjoying the food.

Jayden is helping because his mom works there, and he likes helping her. His favorite part of the job is wrapping the food, and he is very fast, although, he said, his mom is faster. He does go out on the bus sometimes when they need him to. His brother Jacob helps out, too, but was not able to make it to the celebration.

Tristen was also unable to make it to the celebration but has been a big help, they said.

A cake, ice cream and punch were provided, and everyone enjoyed a socially distanced party of sorts as they said farewell to some of the volunteers.

For the rest of the group, it’s not over until it’s over! They are still serving meals every weekday and will be continuing until someone tells them they have to stop. They will miss their volunteers, but they will go on, because they love seeing the happy faces of the children and parents when they come to pick up those meals each day. Take a look at the Okeechobee County Schools Food Service Program’s Facebook page to see a list of bus stops and distribution sites. The page is updated regularly.

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