RICHMOND, Va. — Perhaps no story personifies the work that Feed More Inc., the comprehensive community food agency that feeds the hungry of Central Virginia, than this particular one.
One Friday afternoon, one of the hundreds of Feed More volunteers was out delivering food for kids to eat during the weekend as part of the agency's backpack program. The backpacks are filled with food that kids can eat Friday afternoon through Monday morning. During the rest of the week, the kids are fed at school.
There was nobody around — no kids, no students, no parent — when the volunteer came across a young boy, 5 or 6 years old, sitting on the curb.
The volunteer approached the boy, asking him where he was supposed to be. She told him she was going to find a teacher to help him get to where he belonged.
The boy shook his head no.
"I'm next," he said.
Perplexed, the volunteer asked, "What do you mean, you're next?"
The boy said, "I'm next. My teacher tells me there's one more backpack left in the school, and if the kid who is supposed to get it doesn't show up, she's going to give it to me.
It's because of those types of stories — and more importantly that type of need — that Mark Smith, operator of four Midas of Richmond automotive repair shops, donates so much time, energy, money and most of all, resources for the nonprofits he supports.
It is because of that philanthropy that Mr. Smith has earned this year's Tire Business Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award, given to a tire dealer or retreader who makes a difference in his or her community.
The three major nonprofits that Mr. Smith supports, each with eight-figure-plus budgets, offer plenty of those types of stories.
At St. Joseph's Villa, an organization dedicated to helping children and youth from all socioeconomic backgrounds, some with severe developmental disabilities or mental health issues, Mr. Smith is in the midst of a 10-year, $25,000 annual commitment to maintain the gardening program and its administrator.
While that program might not sound vital to an outsider, the stories that officials from the Villa share demonstrate its value.
According to them, some of the Villa children never have seen a tomato or eggplant or sweet potato, let alone eaten one.
"Some of these kids are not easy to spend time with," said Kathryn Williams, the Villa's garden coordinator. "Some can be violent. But when they're in the garden, it's different. I don't know why, but you take it and run with it."
Jenny Friar, director of development at the Villa, said the garden serves two purposes. The first, she said, is so children can learn to cook, grow and eat healthy food, perhaps inspiring them to do the same on their own.
The second, she said, is simply "because so much good things happen in a garden." The Villa holds integrated speech therapy and team building exercises there, and it allows older kids, some with anger management issues, to serve as mentors to kids with autism.
"It's amazing," Ms. Friar said. "These are kids who have never been helpers; they have only been helped. So it's important to be a helper even if you've been on the receiving end of generosity. We think we need both for the soul."
The garden also has become a community room, so to speak, for several Richmond-area clubs.
"It's amazing in terms of spreading community awareness and work with those groups," Ms. Friar said. "We didn't have that before. We couldn't bring 50 area volunteers and put them in a room with kids. This has been our doorway into the community."
The garden is just one "classroom" for the gardening program. There's also a greenhouse, where some of the plants are grown, as well as a working, restaurant-style kitchen, 7,500 square feet of space where Ms. Williams teaches kids how to transform their produce into delicious foods, all in the name of eating healthier.
"I tell our kids, eating three times a day is a common denominator," Ms. Williams said. "If you know how to do it, and do it well, you'll be in demand."
It wasn't too long ago when the kids made pizzas and delivered them to one of the Midas of Richmond locations.
"One of reasons we got behind St. Joseph's is their vision," Mr. Smith said. "They have a vision that really goes community-wide. You see a lot of their program ... encapsulated on campus. They take their efforts way off campus, integrate other non-profits, and they create such synergy community-wide, it's hard not to support them.
"It's really dynamic ... cutting edge, and that's why we stood behind them and continue to stand behind them."