These are difficult times. Three Monmouth Academy track and field coaches are trying to make them a little easier.

Norm Thombs, Tom Menendez and Molly Menice have been working to give out meals for kids in the Monmouth area, providing bagged lunches and breakfasts to ease both costs and grocery burdens as the coronavirus outbreak forces businesses to pause operations across the state.

“No. 1, it stops people from going to the grocery stores so much, and No. 2, families are hurting,” said Thombs, an assistant coach for Monmouth track and the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale football team. “It helps out on a lot of different levels.”

Since Monday, the three coaches have been part of a volunteer group distributing the meals at the Monmouth Town Hall, and the plan is to continue doing it five days a week for as long as possible through the pandemic.

“We’re going to do it until A, we run out of money, or B, the coronavirus is gone,” said Menendez, the head varsity track coach.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” Thombs said. “I hope for everyone’s sake it’s not a long, long haul, but we’ll do it as long as we’re needed.”

The service started with Thombs, who has been the executive director at Camp Mechuwana, a United Methodist camp in Winthrop, for 32 years. The camp is a summer food site, and the government reimburses the camp for food costs. Starting last Tuesday, Thombs went through the process of getting the camp approved as an Emergency Food Preparation site, recognizing that there was no such service yet in the Winthrop and Monmouth area.

“Mechuwana’s always been very committed to helping kids, especially from lower-income families and families that need help,” Thombs said. “We’ve always done that. For us and for me, this was a natural extension of what we do and have done.”

It took Thombs Tuesday and Wednesday to deal with the formalities. On Thursday, he started rounding up volunteers.

“He didn’t even finish asking me, and I said ‘I’m all in,’ ” Menendez said. “He said ‘Can you help me?’ And I said ‘Sure Norm. What do you want me to do?’ ”

“Any time Norm calls me, I jump on any of the opportunities,” Menice said. “It was just a good opportunity to help out our community.”

The coaches knew they were providing a vital service as shutdowns have made for tough economic times and panic buying has left some store shelves bare.

“Having taught at the school for over 30 years … you realize that food and security is a really big issue,” Menendez said. “And with people losing their jobs, not going to work, you really don’t know what their situation is, whether they have a safety net in terms of still getting paid although they’re not working.

The food, which is prepared at Mechuwana, is provided by Dennis Paper and Food Service and Northcenter Foods, but donations are also accepted as well.

“We just feel that it’s a need, and if people are in need, we’re going to take care of it,” Menendez said. “And if they don’t need it but they want to donate, that’s excellent too.”

Thombs said he hasn’t had to look too hard for volunteers. If anything, it’s been the opposite.

“One of the hardest things is I’ve had so many people that want to volunteer and want to help,” said Thombs, who said he has between nine and 10 volunteers. “We’re really being strict on that, keeping those numbers as low as possible.”

The hope is that the operation can grow, at least in scope if not in size. Thombs has permission to distribute food at the Winthrop Grade School as well, and delivery via bus drivers is something the group is looking into as well.

“It’s starting small, and we’re going to see if we can grow it to include everybody,” Menendez said. “We’re certainly hoping to see if it can snowball and get a lot more people with that nutrition and take care of those kids that don’t have those lunches.”

Menice said it’s important in these times for people to support each other.

“I think the sense of community right now is so important,” Menice said. “This is such a weird moment, and a lot of adults are struggling with it, so I can only imagine how kids are dealing with it. Being able to still provide that community feeling for our kids I think is essential right now.”


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