The tail-wagging, leash-pulling, fur-flying fun Baldwin Park has come to love every spring during the Doggie Derby offers a day of smiles for attendees, and full tummies for local students in need.
Last year, Brightside Events, the organization behind the Derby, began donating all proceeds of the event to its Stock the Pantry program. The program fills gaps in local schools’ food pantries to provide students with food for their families during extended holiday breaks.
Julie Hemphill, Baldwin Park resident and Brightside Events founder, said the program started in 2011 following the release of a “60 Minutes” special on the prevalence of homeless and in-need students in Central Florida. The Doggie Derby has been one of its prime funding sources to help keep hunger out of schools ever since.
“To know this was happening right in our backyard was very surprising. We knew we had to do something,” Hemphill said.
Stock the Pantry now focuses on filling needs at Audubon Park Elementary and Glenridge Middle School. Julie said these feeder schools for Baldwin Park have a need not everyone realizes.
The sixth annual Doggie Derby will be held on Corrine Commons beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 9. To learn more about the event, and sign your dog up for the races, visit DoggieDerby.com
Jessica Spurlin, a school clerk at Audubon Park Elementary, said her school currently has 50 students classified as homeless, and many more are in-need. At Glenridge, the need is similar, said registrar Kenlyn Talbot-Williams, with 54 homeless students and 15 more classified as “in hardship.”
Many of these students, they said, stay temporarily in the Home Suite Home extended-stay motel off Colonial Drive, less than two miles outside of Baldwin Park. At school, they rely on free or reduced lunch and breakfast, but during weekends and breaks, Talbot-Williams and Spurlin said sometimes these students don’t know where or when their next meal will come.
“There are kids here where pretty much the only meal they get is when they come to school,” Spurlin said.
“When they’re off for a week, they’re hungry,” Talbot-Williams said. “A week is a long time when you’re in a motel and there’s a limited amount of food, and when there’s five or six siblings to share that food.”
For more information about the Stock the Pantry program, which works to feed hungry kids during school breaks, and how you can get involved, visit brightsideevents.org/stock-the-pantry-program
Stock the Pantry, she said, helps fill that void in her school, raising money to buy food in bulk to send home with students and their parents to make it through spring and winter breaks. Program volunteers fill bags with canned foods, cereal, peanut butter, bread and soups — enough for families to sustain themselves when free school food isn’t an option.
“It’s just like a basic necessity that we’re providing them with,” Hemphill said. “It’s hard to think, if they didn’t have this food to take home, a kid could go without eating for a whole day or longer.”
Money raised from this year’s Doggie Derby on March 9 will have a quick turnaround, funding food bags for Orange County Public Schools’ spring break, March 25 through 29. Next, the Baldwin Park Halloween Spirit Stroll in October will continue to raise funds for Thanksgiving and winter break meals.
“We previously focused on dog charities, which is great because we’re all dog lovers,” Hemphill said. “But to know we can actually help kids, it’s a really great feeling for us.”