Lois Pope gives $1M to help feed hungry kids

By Shannon Donnelly: Palm Beach Daily News

Philanthropist Lois Pope has donated $1M to the Palm Beach County Food Bank’s program to feed children on weekends and during the summer.

Lois Pope’s decades of philanthropy have embraced a range of causes, from safe drinking water for Central American villagers to veterans’ services to animal rescue to the preservation of sight.

She can now add “feeding hungry children” to that list, thanks to a $1 million donation to the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

The gift, announced Monday, is earmarked for the support and expansion of the Food Bank’s Food4OurKids initiative.

Food4OurKids is a year-round weekend and summer feeding program designed to help fill nutritional gaps that children face on the days they are not in school, where they receive a free or reduced-price lunch.

With schools now closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many children are hungry.

“No child should ever go hungry, here in Palm Beach County where we all live so well,” said Pope, a resident of Manalapan.

“Children need food. They need proper nutrition to learn and thrive. But now, during this coronavirus pandemic, when they are not in school, they are especially at-risk of going hungry.”

Pope credited a Shiny Sheet story about the Food Bank for inspiring the gift.

“I had never heard of the Palm Beach County Food Bank until I read the story,” she said. “I invited the executive director to my home and we had a nice conversation.”

A million-dollar conversation, it would seem.

Pope — whose foundations previously funded summer “camperships” to hundreds of thousands of less-advantaged Florida children — added that she feels a “responsibility to make this new contribution to the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

“My brother and I were children of the Depression,” said Pope, a native of South Philadelphia. “My father worked hard but we were poor. My mother would sacrifice her own dinner so her children could eat. That’s the kind of parents I had.

“I think all of us living here with financial means have an obligation to help mitigate the current situation our county’s schoolchildren are facing. So I invite others – in fact, I urge others – to join me in this vitally important, essential effort.”

In gratitude for what she called “a transformative gift,” Marti LaTour, the board chair of the Palm Beach County Food Bank, said that the organization will re-name the children’s food initiative the “Lois’ Food4Kids Program.”

Said LaTour: “This is a complete game-changer, not just for our food bank but, more importantly, for the thousands of children in the county who will benefit now during this pandemic and in the future … my deepest gratitude to Mrs. Pope for her generosity. She is the best of the best, a true humanitarian.”

Prior to the pandemic, “we were already providing meals to more than 3,000 kids at 45 sites during the summer and on weekends,” said Food Bank Executive Director Karen Erren. “Now, that need has increased exponentially.”

Also because of the pandemic, the supplies of donated foods from local groceries and businesses, as well as manufacturers, have been “drying up, so we are now having to purchase a lot of food,” Erren said, adding that 50 of the county’s 125 food pantry partners, have suspended operation because of lack of supplies.

“The bottom line is our phones are ringing off the hook with calls from families who are in desperate need of food, especially for their children,” Erren said.

“Mrs. Pope’s historic gift is the perfect answer to these calls. But the need is so great that I encourage others to come alongside her because hunger relief requires the efforts of all of us.”

Palm Beach County represents the 10th largest school district in the U.S. More than 60% of school-age children are already eligible for free or reduced-price meals, “and the need is increasing very quickly and greatly,” Erren said.

For more information or to help, visit pbcfoodbank.org.