Giving back: Mighty Moms
‘But what if you get hungry?” asks a cartoon brunette named Sofia in the pages of Maddi’s Fridge, the children’s book by Lois Brandt that serves as a teaching tool for Mighty Moms founders Beth McCormick and Dawn Birdsong as they travel to schools across Baton Rouge to educate about hunger. “We have some bread,” responds Sofia’s best friend Maddi, whose fridge contains only milk reserved for her younger brother, just before requesting that her family’s situation be kept a secret.
All too often, hunger is hidden. Its wounds aren’t immediately noticeable on the outside, despite the deep impact on the inside. The mission of books like Maddi’s Fridge and of local nonprofit Mighty Moms is to bring the widespread problem to light, emphasizing the difference that can be made when friends, neighbors and strangers reach out a helping hand.
“When you see a child eating at school, you don’t realize if he or she isn’t getting another meal at home,” explains McCormick. “For the past three years, we have been teaching kids to recognize that hunger is a serious problem and it’s something that we can and should talk about.”
McCormick and Birdsong’s volunteer work didn’t start with education, however. Eleven years ago, the two moms sat side by side in their Monday morning prayer group. When it came time to offer up intentions, someone stood up and asked for members of the group to keep the children of her neighborhood in mind, as they were struggling with food insecurity. Curious, McCormick and Birdsong took a drive that afternoon.
“It really made me realize that it can be anyone and it can be anywhere,” notes McCormick. “It was truly eye-opening.”
Starting by pulling a wagon filled with snacks through the neighborhood once a month, the two moms quickly realized their ministry could be so much more. In 2010, Mighty Moms became an official nonprofit, moving into schools throughout the Livingston Parish School System. Through the group’s “Full Tummy” program, they work with guidance counselors and school administrators to identify those in need of assistance and provide about 600 bags of food per week during the academic year.
“We started in just three schools,” explains McCormick. “Now, we have become such great friends with all of the schools. A lot of the principals weren’t aware of the problem when we started. It’s been great to learn and work together.”
Mighty Moms now also offers free after-school snacks and drinks alongside educational programs through the Livingston Parish Library System, in partnership with the local schools. And once a month, the Mighty Moms team joins forces with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to host a food pantry at Abundant Life Church, complete with fresh produce and ingredients.
“It’s important to us that everyone has the opportunity to have their basic needs met,” says Birdsong. “We know it’s hard to ask for help. After the flood, we all experienced that. Things happen and it could be any of us in that line. We want to show them that they’re loved and not judged.”
In response to COVID-19, Mighty Moms has ramped up its efforts, making for what Birdsong and McCormick consider to be one of the busiest times in their organization’s 10-year history.
“We felt like the whole community was looking to us for help,” Birdsong notes.
Placing “Give and Take” barrels at local businesses, in which people can both leave donations and take what they need for their own families, was just one of the team’s ideas aimed at maximizing availability but limiting physical contact. In addition, Mighty Moms also joined forces with local churches, the Louisiana Culinary Institute and even Sonic to host hot meal feedings around the parish throughout March, April and May.
“Everyone has been so willing to step up,” says McCormick. “We have never had to beg. Our needs—and the needs of those we serve—are always met.”
“We have loved our community so much and they love us in return,” adds Birdsong. “Mighty Moms is almost entirely run through individual donors. We don’t have any big grants or anything like that. It’s about helping each other.”
Maddi’s Fridge concludes with that same message, as the two families come together, sharing food and conversation. “I couldn’t do it alone,” says Maddi. “That’s what friends are for,” responds Sofia.