When the Vision to Learn (VTL) van entered the apartment complex, volunteers were waiting behind two folding tables set up in the parking lot. On this morning, the van wasn’t delivering eye exams or free glasses. This day, like every day for the past two weeks, it was delivering 200 hot breakfasts.
This creative community partnership began when COVID-19 closed schools and all the VTL programming came to a halt. In this crisis, however, lead VTL founders Renee and Hugh McColl recognized another clear need—hungry children.
“We had these two vans just sitting in the parking lot and we knew we could be helping,” Renee said.
They called Communities in Schools (CIS) to see which neighborhood schools might need transportation help. Heal Charlotte was already working in the Reagen Drive corridor near Hidden Valley and Hugh knew the group’s leader Greg Jackson. One phone call and a unique partnership was created. Greg had 200 breakfast meals he needed brought from downtown and VTL vans could provide the missing link.
“We couldn’t provide our regular programming,” Greg said “So we were trying to respond with innovative solutions for our families’ needs.”
Greg realized the highest concern was food. As a former chef trained in New York, Greg is well-networked with many of Charlotte’s chefs.
He called several of them to ask, “How can I get hot and healthy meals that my kids could enjoy at home?”
His friends offered to cook meals and Greg raised almost $10,000 from donors to start a meal program. As the community need grew, Greg wrote a grant and was awarded $40,000 from the city COVID relief fund to support both local restaurants and the Heal Charlotte families. Greg Jackson began coordinating 200 breakfasts and 200 dinners for the Reagen Drive corridor. Chef Greg Collier with YOLK stepped up to make the breakfasts and dinners would provided by Lewis Donald with DISH restaurant. With those chefs in place, Greg knew the food would be fantastic but transporting 200 meals was still a problem until the offer came to use Vision to Learn vans.
Each morning, Renee drives the brightly colored VTL van covered in giant glasses and smiling children, and pulls up curbside to YOLK. Inside, Chef Oscar, Laneica Williams and Brandon Stanton have been preparing containers of hot scrambled eggs, hash and grits. The stacks of packaged breakfasts are transferred to the van which still has assorted children’s eyewear displayed on the wall. The drive up North Tryon takes about ten minutes where Greg and his volunteers wait in the parking lot to unload the meals for distribution.
Already, people are waiting for the food. A young boy in an orange soccer jersey asks Greg, “Am I too early?”
“No, go ahead! How’s your dog?” Greg asks the boy and explains that his pet just had surgery.
Greg seems to know everything happening in the complex including the fact that food is just the beginning of the need for those devasted by lost jobs. Toilet paper, wipes, diapers and cleaning supplies were also in high demand. Along with the breakfast delivery, the McColls organized a huge donation of paper goods and cleaning supplies. Greg has surveyed the community for needs and will soon begin delivering care packages to 175 families.
Greg Jackson and Antuan Smith founded Heal Charlotte in November 2017 shortly after riots rocked Charlotte. Greg wanted there to be a bridge of communication between citizens and city officials. Through partnerships like the breakfast delivery with Vision to Learn, Greg has extended those bridges throughout the city by offering a direct way to help families most in need.
As those families gathered to collect their breakfast, the benefit of the Heal Charlotte and Vision to Learn unique partnership was clear for everyone to see.