When Sharon Jessen’s daughter suggested her parents take a break from retirement to volunteer at the local elementary school kitchen, she had no idea what would develop. ViSalus Directors Larry and Sharon Jessen started serving free meals at a kids’ summer school program in Alexandria, Minnesota. What began as a simple act of volunteering turning into something much bigger when a young boy came sprinting into the cafeteria one morning only to fall to his knees in tears.
The boy realized he was too late for breakfast. And he hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. Shocked and heart broken, Sharon served him his hot meal. That’s when the Jessens realized these free meals were all the children ate each day.
“We’ve been retired since 1998. Working first with elementary school children and later with high school youth has brought us to life again,” says Sharon, adding, “We have always been interested and active in our community, but we hadn’t found our true calling until that day one little boy fell on the floor crying.”
Ultimately, Larry and Sharon found a growing number of children and youth arrived at school hungry on a daily basis. As Alexandria is by no means an impoverished community, the Jessens were surprised to learn this news.
The couple did some research and found the Alexandria school district administered a program called Relationships, Education, Accountability, Character & Hard Work (REACH) to support youth failing high school. Many of these students lived in poverty and suffered from malnourishment.
KIDS are ViBRANT
A large nonprofit previously donated what were deemed “nutritional” food products to the REACH program, but these products consisted primarily of carbohydrates and sugars. From day one Larry and Sharon knew these kids desperately needed nutrient packed products that would work double duty for both brain and body. Enter Project 10™ Kids and Vi-Shape®.
The Jessens developed their own charity, KIDS are ViBRANT, fueled by the goal of providing REACH youth nutritious Vi-Shape Shakes daily. Project 10 Kids naturally fed into this new Charity Partnership.
The couple even teamed up with a local vacation Bible school to fundraise and generate awareness of malnutrition and hunger among youth in the community, and Vi matched their efforts with in kind donations of Vi-Shape.
“Our original goal was to support physical well being, but now it’s clear we are reaching much deeper. We’ve struck a spiritual chord for some of these kids,” says Larry. “Many of them have gone from reluctant to openly sharing personal stories. We’ve built relationships that have improved kids’ communication skills. And we can see hope for their futures as these kids grow into healthier adults.”
Today KIDS are ViBRANT supports 120 youth and occupies a special food shelf across from the high school counseling office where Vi-Shape Shakes and almond milk are available. The Jessens have made a routine of providing backpacks stuffed with nutritious Vi products for students to take home every weekend. Before summer vacation, each REACH student receives three generous bags (180 kid-sized meals!) of Vi-Shape.
The Jessens have big plans to add more variety in terms of meal, drink or snack options to the REACH and KIDS are ViBRANT programs.
“We woud love to see Vi Bites and Vi Crunch appeal to the high school students,” says Sharon.
Once the food shelf is sufficiently stocked on a regular basis the Jessens plan to return to the local elementary school and offer donations year-round.
The couple hopes that word continues to spread so they can support communities within a 50-mile radius—and be able to provide 60,000 much needed nutritious Vi meals, drinks or snacks monthly.
“Food is love,” say the Jessens. “There is no room for hunger in our own communities, our own schools and in our own backyards.”
Find out how you can get involved with Project 10 Kids as a Charity Sponsor HERE.