Serving up Holiday Cheer
Brilliant Smiles provides families with Christmas meals
Hearty holiday meals are a traditional part of American celebrations. But for some families, putting any meal on the table is a hardship.
In Brevard County, nearly 30,000 students are eligible for free lunch programs at schools, according to Florida Department of Education statistics. Brevard public schools also offer free breakfast to all students, regardless of income.
During school breaks, feeding children is harder for families whose income qualifies them for free or reduced lunch.
Dr. Romia Goff, owner of six Brevard County Brilliant Smiles Orthodontics locations, wanted to ease that burden during the season of giving.
In 2015, Goff reached out to the Partners in Education program with an idea to provide a full Christmas meal for local families that need it. He also offered the money to make it happen.
While there are already established Thanksgiving meal programs in the county, Goff was interested in providing the same service for Christmas — particularly for families that would struggle putting together a meal for the holiday.
“No one should go hungry at Christmas,” Goff said. “There are a lot of toy drives around Christmastime and I wanted to fill a different need.”
In 2015, 115 families from five schools were provided meals. In 2016, that number jumped to 258 families from 10 schools. This year, the initiative hopes to feed an additional 150 local families.
Stacey Nemetz was a first-grade teacher at Sherwood Elementary School in Melbourne and the school’s Partners in Education coordinator when the school was contacted about Brilliant Smiles’ donation. Nemetz took a trip to Walmart and priced the items needed for a full holiday meal for six to eight people, including canned ham, vegetables, rolls, stuffing, mashed and scalloped potatoes, and pie.
With costs in mind, she then reached out to guidance counselors and teachers at Sherwood to develop a plan for families to receive the meals. From there, Nemetz extended that offer to other schools using the remaining funds from Dr. Goff’s donation.
“This Christmas meal is something special that Dr. Goff at Brilliant Smiles so generously gives to help these families,” Nemetz said.
Other business partners and individuals have since joined the drive, allowing more families throughout the county to be served with holiday meals.
The donations are just the start of what it takes to organize and deliver Christmas meals to hundreds of families. Nemetz, Amy Evans from DeLaura Middle School, college students, senior groups and other volunteers put in the hours to make the meals a reality. This year, middle school students at DeLaura also will volunteer to create the meal packages.
The food is ordered from nearby Walmart Martketplace at Wickham Road and Post Road in bulk and at a discount. The store staff keep food on pallets and package it for easy transport back to Sherwood Elementary. At the school, volunteers put together the individual meal packages for all of the schools in the program. The packages are available for pickup at schools where families attend the week before students are released for holiday break, though some are delivered by volunteers.
As the movement grows, so will the need for donors and volunteers.
“It’s heartening to see how this drive is growing as far as donations and volunteers,” Goff said. “We look forward to providing even more meals for families this Christmas.”
Goff is the 2017 Business Partner of the Year through the Partners in Education program, honored for the holiday meals and the Brilliant Smiles tooth fairy Violette, who visits area schools to hand out toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental hygiene tips. It’s all part of seeing community needs, and filling them, he said.
“Helping out where we can — that’s a core belief of mine. I will continue to do it wherever I see an opportunity.”