There’s never been a question about Tamara Sandberg’s future. She knew early on that she’d work for a non-profit organization. And it would be one that focuses on hunger relief.
Her professional career started as a family resource officer at Head Start. She worked with families to help them thrive, but she quickly saw a bigger concern.
“I realized if these families didn’t have the food they needed for their kids to eat, then all the other things I could work on kind of took a back seat.“
That realization launched Tamara into charity work, where she spent more than two decades working for non-profit organizations, many of which focused on alleviating hunger in the U.S. In January 2023, Tamara brought her passion for solving the hunger issue to Feed the Children as the Vice President of U.S. Program Development.
“I just think it’s unacceptable that in one of the richest nations in the world that anybody would go to bed without the food they need. So, that’s been my passion.”
Tamara’s role at Feed the Children includes strengthening and re-imagining programs in the U.S. to deepen impact on child hunger.
“There are a lot of people in America who are one car accident away from not being able to put food on the table, or one divorce away from not being able to pay for their rent and pay for food for their kids. That’s why I’m personally so passionate about hunger in America and doing what we can to make sure every kid in the U.S. has what they need, and they are not going to bed hungry.”
She wasted no time getting to work, launching a pilot program called Summer Feed and Read. The program is currently running in Oklahoma City – the home of Feed the Children’s headquarters — for now, but Tamara knows something like this is needed all over the country. That’s because millions of children do not have access to school meals in the summertime.
“Not only is (Summer Feed and Read) addressing child hunger during the summer months, it’s also addressing something called ‘the summer slide,’ where we know kids of all income levels lose some of their academic achievement during the summer months. It’s worse for kids in the lower income levels and they come back to school with a significant gap from their peers of higher income because they are falling that much farther behind academically,” said Tamara.
Community partners, like the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, have joined forces with Feed the Children to administer the Summer Read and Feed program. Children in the program receive free meals and books to take home. To help stretch household budgets farther, families also receive essential household items such as toothpaste and shampoo.
Tamara also implemented a healthy approach to the meals kids receive. The program is following the USDA’s My Plate recommendations, meaning every meal contains protein, fruit, vegetables, grains, and shelf-stable milk.
“I will tell you, there was some trepidation, like, ‘Ah, kids won’t eat the vegetables.’ Well, I had the pleasure of seeing this program in person last week. The kids were given the meals, and some of them had green beans, some of them had corn, and some of them had carrots. Yes, I saw, some of the kids said, ‘Oh, I don’t like green beans. I don’t want it,’ but what happened was another kid would raise his hand and say, ‘Well, I have corn, and I don’t like corn. Can we trade?’ They traded, they were both happy, and they both ate the vegetables,” said Tamara, with a smile on her face.
Tamara also witnessed something exciting when it was time to give out the books.
“The kids lined up, and they got to pick out the book they wanted. And as the younger group was waiting and I was standing there, the little kids were really excited and squirming. One of the little guys, he was probably only four or five, he looked up at me with really wide eyes, and he said, ‘We get to keep these books?’ and I said, ‘Yes, it’s yours. You get to keep a book. It’s yours forever and ever.’ And his face kind of fell, and he said, ‘But I don’t have any money to pay you with it,’ and I got kind of choked up. ‘Oh, honey, you don’t have to pay. We’re giving you this book.’” Tamara paused for a moment, reliving that sweet exchange. “But the kids want to read! They were so thrilled. It was like Christmas morning for them. It was really heartening for me to get to see that firsthand because we’ve spent so much time behind the scenes making this happen.”
Tamara’s work won’t be done once the summer is over though. Her focus is on making the biggest impact for families in the U.S., and she knows that back-to-school time is also a time of need. Two programs she’s working on now are School Resource Rooms and a backpack program. Neither are new projects, but Tamara is revitalizing both for a bigger impact.
Employees from Feed the Children corporate partners pack the backpack with food, hygiene products and school supplies. Then the backpacks go to a school for distribution.
“We see a lot of opportunity to honor the intent of the corporate donor, give them a fabulous employee engagement experience, and leverage these filled backpacks for deeper impact among the kids we are serving.”
The School Resource Rooms are another focus as the school year begins. These are like school food pantries, but they also include hygiene items, cleaning products, school supplies and more.
“There’s a lot of potential for that, so we’re really excited to dig in deeper and bring about more impact through those School Resource Rooms,” said Tamara.
Tamara’s work is just beginning. And with donors like you as our partner and Tamara working behind the scenes, we can easily envision a world where no child goes hungry.
Welcome, Tamara! We can’t wait to serve more families and children with you by our side.