For many kids, an extra day off school is like hitting the jackpot. Holidays, snow days or teachers’ workdays can bring treasures like more TV time, more internet hours and more sleep in the morning.
But some kids would rather be in school.
A mom of four, Tracy Kronk glimpsed that reality when she was volunteering in her child’s classroom at Norwood Elementary. She made a comment to a young boy about how hard it must be to come back following a three-day weekend.
“He just looked at me from his paper, and he says, ‘Mrs. Kronk, when I’m at home I don’t get to eat. I only eat when I get breakfast and lunch at school,’ ” Kronk recalled. “And I still, to this day, don’t have a response that would have been appropriate to give him at that time.”
Instead, Kronk took action, slipping extra food in his backpack and, unbeknownst to her, setting off a chain reaction. “By the end of the week, it was two [kids],” she said. “In two weeks, it was 17. Now you flash forward, seven and a half years later, and I’m at 600.”
Operating the nonprofit Sufficient Grace, Kronk, 43, and her team of volunteers serve students in grades pre-K through 12 in school districts in Madison, Union and Clark counties. Each week, they meet at West Jefferson United Methodist Church to assemble boxes of evening and weekend meals. Contents include nonperishable, easy-to-prepare items like ramen noodles, pudding and granola bars.
With hopes to add all schools in the Northeastern Local School District in the near future, Kronk anticipates that she soon could be helping between 800 and 900 students.
But it all started in West Jefferson, about 20 miles west of Columbus, where Kronk lives with her husband and kids. Appearances would not immediately suggest a hunger problem in the community.
“It’s a cute little country town,” said volunteer Michaele Budd. “There’s the antique shops, the pizza places, the little doctor’s offices. And you just don’t think that you’re going to find hungry people here, hungry children here. And yet there’s a need.”
Kronk was similarly surprised.
“Hard times are kind of secret, and they fall on everybody, no matter what their house or their car look like,” she said. “So that was probably a real eye-opener for me.”
Drug abuse in Ohio, which has one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the country, also is a contributing factor.
“What we see is, there are so many parents who are, unfortunately, caught up in the drug community,” said Barbara Rife, president of the London Lions Club, which helps raise money for Sufficient Grace. “And it’s the children that suffer. It’s the money that should be spent to feed and clothe the children that just isn’t used that way.”
“I have a heart for the rural area because I know that it’s hard for those kids to get access,” Kronk said. “They can’t walk to a program after school. Once you’re bused home, you’re home. So being that we’re allowed in the school system is a really magic thing for us.”
Neighborhood: West Jefferson
Who inspires you? “As cliché as it may sound, my answer would have to be Jesus,” she said. “I was given a great gift when I was redeemed. How better to appreciate His love for me than by spreading love and kindness to precious children?”
What keeps you engaged? Hearing stories of positive impact simply from the receipt of a box of food and a kind person handing it to them. One example: There was a first-grade boy who previously lived in a severely food-insecure environment and was now living with stepgrandparents. Upon coming to live with them, he was anxious and couldn’t sleep. Once he started receiving his SG box, he placed it on his dresser at night and said he could sleep better knowing he wasn’t going to be hungry anymore. “Sometimes peace for a child is simply not being hungry,” Kronk said. “I am blessed to have a small part in that.
Kronk said it takes about $15,000 per month to feed all the children in the Sufficient Grace program. Receiving donations helps, but in the early years, especially before she had 501(c)(3) status, she didn’t know how she’d manage at times.
“The money ends up showing up,” Kronk said. “You pray on it, and you tell your volunteers. They’re really great about spreading the word, and it gets supported.”
Seeing that continuous provision over the years has had a significant impact on Kronk’s oldest daughter, Mary, a 19-year-old college student. “It actually helped my faith grow,” Mary said. “There’s been some months when we were days before the deadline, and we didn’t have enough money. You can’t just tell the kids, ‘Hey, sorry, we don’t have food this week.’ … But it would come down to like the night before and somehow something would come together.”
Kronk’s own spiritual beliefs have informed the entire nonprofit, which she describes as a calling. Its name comes from a Bible verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” And she waits for schools to come to her, believing their requests are in line with God’s will.
“I don’t want to overstep what the Lord can supply me with and where he wants me to be,” she said.
Sufficient Grace does more than provide nourishment to the students; it allows them to form meaningful relationships outside of their homes.
“You can just tell how important it is to them, knowing that somebody cares about them,” said Melissa Ferguson, the nurse for West Jefferson Local Schools. “The ladies from the church that come and pass the food out—those kids learn their names, and they hug them. They just feel loved.”
Additionally, seeing the same school staff each week has other positive effects. “There were a couple of students who were dealing with a domestic violence issue in their home,” said Melissa Canney, a student support specialist in London City Schools. “And when the teacher contacted me about this and the students saw me, they instantly knew me from getting Sufficient Grace. They already had trust with me. It made it easier for them to be able to talk to me.”
Because the process is discreet and open to anyone, parents can receive assistance without feeling ashamed. “Parents are more likely to accept the help because they don’t have to come in and fill out paperwork or come stand in line to pick up the food,” Ferguson said. “It’s sent home with their child.”
Sufficient Grace also has transformed the lives of its volunteers, opening their eyes to the extent of the hunger issue, allowing them to form new friendships and inspiring them. “It’s a nice fellowship,” Budd said of her time preparing the boxes with the other volunteers. “We talk about our lives, our families, what’s going on in our community. … I do some things outside of here with some of these people.”
“She just keeps going,” said Kronk’s neighbor, Nena J. Dillon, who nominated her for the Everyday Heroes recognition. “I keep thinking, ‘OK, she’s going to tell these next people no, but she never tells them no.’ ”
Kronk doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. In fact, she’s hoping Sufficient Grace will get its own facility as it is outgrowing the church pantry.
“I think she’s a savior,” said volunteer Donna Johnson. “She’s saving some of these kids.”
Kronk may be too humble to agree, but she has accepted another title given to her by a kindergartener in the early days of Sufficient Grace.
“It’s you,” he said after finally meeting Kronk face-to-face.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“I thought I had a food fairy that left food ‘cause they knew I was hungry.”
Kronk eventually learned he was the little brother of the very first boy she helped.
“It was really a surreal thing,” she said. “If food fairies exist, I’m happy to be that.”