We dark-pink-heart School!

September 2016

Fall is one of our favorite times of the year at The Philanthropy Connection, as we get to know our new Grantees, and prepare for another year of giving. We dedicate this issue to everyone in our community who is going back to school with the mandate for helping young people prepare for their future or, in some cases, pursuing their own academic dreams. Dozens of TPC members work in universities, among them UMass-Lowell, Boston College, Wheelock College, Tufts, Harvard, and Bunker Hill Community College; some work and/or volunteer in schools, among them Epiphany, The Carroll School, and Thayer Academy; some are students at UMass-Boston, BC, and BU; others work for non-profits that ensure kids receive high-quality education, no matter their zip code, such as the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, Boston Partners in Education, and the National Head Start Association.

Thank you, TPC educators, students, school staff, volunteers, and of course our Grantees, for all that you do. Now it’s time to meet two TPC Grantees who work with kids in schools, and a TPC member who owns her own school – Ballroom in Boston.

Food, Clothing… and Ballroom Dancing
Spotlight on TPC Grantee:
Food for Free

Alanna Mallon

Cambridge is home to the wealthiest university in the world, and it is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Yet, many Cambridge families are food-insecure, and their kids go hungry. Alanna Mallon, program director of the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, explained how TPC’s grant is helping change that. Interview by TPC member Courtney Silva

Q: Alanna, how did the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program get started?
A: I’m a Cambridge resident and mom of two kids – a third grader and a sixth grader. I heard a story on the radio about backpack programs that support kids who get their nutrition primarily from school cafeterias. This made me wonder whether kids in the Cambridge schools were experiencing food insecurity. So, I contacted my kids’ school and found out that there are kids in Cambridge that don’t get enough food. They told me, “If you can connect us with the food, we can connect you with the kids.”

Q: What’s in the backpacks?
A: Every Friday, the kids go home with two breakfast meals, two lunch meals, fresh fruit, milk, and healthy snacks for the weekend. We now serve over 400 kids in 16 schools across Cambridge – 12 elementary schools and 4 middle schools.

FoodForFree Backpack

Q: What’s your relationship with TPC Grantee Food for Free?
A: From the start, I partnered with Food for Free – they provide the food that goes into the backpacks. Last January, they adopted the Weekend Backpack Program, and I became a full-time employee of Food for Free. When I started my program, I was unfamiliar with non-profits, and Food for Free executive director Sasha became my mentor. She taught me how to navigate the challenges of creating a sustainable organization.

Q: Tell me about your monthly pop-up marketplaces.
A: Last year we created pop-up markets in three Cambridge schools, and this year we will have four. We set up like a farmers’ market, with staples like eggs and fresh fruit, we create a festive atmosphere with music, and we invite everyone in the school. The food is free for everyone – it is either rescued, or from the Greater Boston Food Bank. It’s engaging and a fun atmosphere where kids can shop alongside their teachers, and staff can interact with families who may be otherwise hard for us to reach. It’s about getting free food to those who need it, but it’s also about being a support system for the school’s staff.

FoodForFree Distribution

Q: Tell me about one of your success stories.
A: Last year, there was a fourth grader who was in tears every day. Finally, we called him to a meeting with school staff to find out why. He said, “My mom isn’t eating anything because we don’t have enough food for all of us, so she’s making us eat and she’s not eating anything herself.” We enrolled him and his siblings in the Weekend Backpack Program. We were able to get food into the house. By collaborating with the schools, we are able to help families in the moment, bring them into the fold of school, and help in multiple ways.

Q: What do you hope to get from your relationship with TPC?
A: I met with a team of TPC members last spring, when they came for the site visit – what an amazing group of women! I learned more about the organization then, and how empowering it is. I didn’t know TPC existed, and to learn there are women who pool their money to be impactful is incredible. I hope with this grant we can deepen our connection with TPC, and that it’s something TPC feels good about funding.

FoodForFree FarmersMarket

Q: How can TPC members get involved with Food for Free?
A: We have many programs that run solely on volunteers. Volunteers can help with the pop-up marketplace, they can help assemble bags of food for the weekend backpacks, they can help us deliver food to elderly and disabled residents who qualify for the food pantry but can’t get there… There are lots of ways to help! For more information, or to volunteer, send an email to Alanna: programdirector@foodforfree.org.

Grab a few friends and join Alanna and other Food for Free staff on October 14, for the annual Party Under the Harvest Moon, at M.I.T. There will be lots of food and music, with Honorary Co-chairs Ray Magliozzi (host of Car Talk) and Robin Young (WBUR, Here and Now).

Spotlight on TPC Grantee:
Catie’s Closet

Caties Closet Outside

When Mickey Cockrell’s niece Catie died of a connective tissue disorder at age 20, Mickey and her three sisters decided to honor Catie’s love of education by helping students struggling with homelessness stay in school. Thus, Catie’s Closet was born. Co-founder and executive director Mickey Cockrell says that her organization provides kids with clothing, and much more. Interview by TPC member Lindsay McNair

Q: Mickey, what’s the mission of Catie’s Closet?
A: Catie’s Closet improves school attendance and removes social stigma by providing an in-school resource of clothing and basic necessities to students living below the poverty line. We do this by setting up “closets” within schools from which identified students can obtain clothes for the day, week or month.

Q: Why were you motivated to create “closets” in schools?
A: Our mission is not just to hand out clothes to kids, but to keep kids in school. Students from low-income families miss, on average, 50 days of school a year, and by middle school they are three years behind their peers. These children may lack not just clothes, but the means to maintain proper hygiene; they feel ostracized and different from their peers, which leads to absenteeism. By making these resources available within the schools, we’re trying to change the paradigm and make school a positive place of help and empowerment.

Q: How many children do you serve?
A: We now provide clothes and toiletries to 18,000 kids at 31 different schools, mostly in Lowell.

CatiesCloset Inside

Q: Tell me about a success story that means a lot to you.
A: I was working in our Closet at Lowell High School, and a young woman came in. With tears in her eyes, she told us that she was there to find an outfit to wear to an Honors dinner that night. She had been using the Closet since she was a freshman. She told us that it had kept her in school — now she was graduating and going to college. I cannot tell that story without crying. Clothes that someone else didn’t need any more had changed that child’s life.

Q: You recently had a big achievement – tell me about it.
A: We had the Grand Opening of the Mather Elementary School Closet on September 9, which is our first school in Boston. We had media coverage from the Boston Globe, local news stations, and a representative from the Mayor’s office. We’ve already had more than 100,000 views of our website and coverage, with inquiries about donations of clothes, volunteer opportunities, and interest from other schools about how they can have a Closet of their own.

Q: How can TPC members get involved and help?
A: We have a waiting list of schools that want us to open a Closet. The sponsorship to help us open a new Closet is $5,000 per school ($10,000 if it is a uniform-wearing school). So we’d love TPC members to be ambassadors for us, to help spread the word to people who might want to be sponsors and help us open in a new school.

Caties Closet Line-Up

We always need Closet Champions, volunteers that visit a Closet regularly to maintain the store, keep things neat, and place inventory orders with our main distribution center.

Probably the easiest way for people to help is by hosting donation drives for us: We provide flyers and boxes, and we pick up the donations you’ve collected. All the host has to do is to help get the word out to their neighborhood, friends, or office about donating. It can be a drive for toiletries, clothes, shoes, or to raise money so we can purchase underwear and socks.

Of course we’ll take any volunteer who has a skill they want to share, like marketing, PR, grant-writing, whatever you can do!

To learn more about volunteering, or to find out how you can support a school Closet, contact Mickey: mickey@catiescloset.org.

To “meet” Mickey and learn about the recently opened Boston Closet, click to see press coverage by WCVB Channel 5, FOX25 News, and the Boston Globe.


Spotlight on TPC Member:
Lilia Wood Weisfeldt

Many TPC members consider ourselves lifelong learners – we join book and film groups, register each fall for adult education courses, and participate in the latest fitness craze at the gym. Zumbatomics, anyone? TPC member Lilia Weisfeldt endulges our quest for self-improvement – and fun – as the owner of Ballrooom in Boston, where she claims she can teach anyone to dance. Interview by TPC member Marla Felcher


Q: Lilia, I’m sure the question that is at the top of everyone’s mind is: How did you come to be a ballroom dancer?
A: I arrived in Boston to go to Wellesley College in 2000. The summer between my sophomore and junior year in college, I lived with my parents in Arizona. I didn’t know anyone there, and was looking for something to do, when I saw an ad for a free ballroom dance class. On a whim, I went. After that class I was on a high. I went to that studio every day that summer.

Q: What happened when you went back to school? Did you dance at Wellesley?
A: M.I.T. has a ballroom dance team that I learned Wellesley students could participate in. I worked really hard in order to make the M.I.T. team. Which I did.


Q: Did you major in dance?
A: No. I was a political science major. I planned on going to law school. I worked in a few law firms during college, and after I graduated, as a law clerk. At some point I realized that I did not like my job, and I was spending all day at work looking forward to dance classes at night. So I did what any 20-something would do: I quit my job, spent a couple of months with my parents, who were then living in Nicaragua, and figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I decided that dance was my passion.

Q: What was your first professional job as a dance teacher?
A: I got a job as a ballroom dance teacher at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Pensacola, Florida.

Q: Who are your students at Ballroom in Boston?
A: We specialize in Adult Beginners. Couples preparing for their wedding first dance, and a lot of adults 45 and older who are looking to try something new.


Q: How do you spend your time when you’re not teaching dancing?
A: I just finished a two-year term as the president of Women’s Business Group Connects, a networking group for women. I am currently on the Board of Directors for Allston Village Main Street, a group that works to make Allston Village more business and consumer friendly. And I am president of the Rotary Club of Watertown.

Q: Tell me about your connection with TPC Grantee Food for Free.
A: I heard Alanna, whose Weekend Backpack program TPC just funded, speak a year ago about her work. I was so moved by the need, I decided to make it my big project once I became president of Rotary. I talked with Alanna extensively, and we are starting the program in Watertown elementary schools this year! Our goal is to get our first backpacks out by Thanksgiving.


Q: How did you find out about TPC?
A: Two years ago, I read the article about TPC that was in The Globe. I jumped out of my seat with excitement. I was going to apply for a Young Philanthropist Fellowship, but decided I didn’t want to risk not being chosen. So I just joined.

Q: What have you been involved with so far?
A: Last year I was on a Grant Review Team, which was really enlightening. I loved learning about the process of choosing grantees, and working with a small team of women. I found out about a lot of organizations that I didn’t know existed. I was also on the Education & Engagement Programs committee last year, which plans events. There were such high-caliber women in that group – they are phenomenal as organizers and event planners. It was a ton of fun.

Q: Have you ever done the tango with a rose between your teeth?
A: Of course.

To learn more about Lilia’s life passion (or learn “any dance that requires a partner”): http://ballroominboston.com/


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