Donor Stories

Tom’s Grocery Bag

January 22, 2018

As a child, Tom Kennedy learned the impact an adequate meal can have on a child. One of 11 children, Tom lost his parents at a young age and had to fend for himself at mealtime, a burden many children continue to face today. Through Tom’s Grocery Bag Fund, which was established in 2013 by Tom and his wife Trudy of Onalaska, they aim to help kids meet one of their basic needs in times of crisis, turmoil, or poverty.

Tom’s Grocery Bag was inspired by La Crosse Community Foundation’s Jim’s Grocery Bag Fund, a memorial to Tom’s cousin Jim Gokey. Where Jim’s Grocery Bag primarily benefits La Crosse Public Schools, Tom’s Grocery Bag aids students in Onalaska Public Schools where Tom and Trudy’s three children and Tom and his siblings attended school.

Each year, Tom’s Grocery Bag supports Onalaska Public Schools with funds to replenish school food pantries, provide food vouchers for use in area grocery and convenience stores, and offer financial assistance to families for groceries in emergency cases.

Hunger is persistent in many communities, and Onalaska Schools report a significant population of children and teens whose families live at or below federal poverty levels. Tom was shocked to find out that in 2012 more than 31% of Onalaska Public School students, or 890 children, qualified for free or reduced meal prices. A lack of proper nourishment correlates with poor performance in school, with persistent hunger pains proving a distraction in class and often affecting mood, energy and cognition.

Over the past three years, Tom’s Grocery Bag has provided hundreds of students with healthy, hearty meals. The fund has granted over $24,000 since it was established, averaging close to $5,000 in grants annually.

Tom says his goal when creating the fund was to “solve a problem that probably won’t go away in the near future. We are helping, but sadly there is still room for improvement and the need keeps growing.”