2020 Person of the Year Nominee: Eileen Vickers and Sue Simon

By: 
Hannah Gross

Jenny Williard, Herb French, Chris French, Taylor Spain, JoAnn Fassbender, Megan Kenney, Yvonne Synder and Sue Simon pack “totes of hope” to provide students with food on the weekend. Simon and Eileen Vickers, who started the program, were nominated as co-candidates for Person of the Year for all the volunteer hard work they put in to feeding the community one tote at a time.

 

Hannah Gross

NLJ Correspondent

 

For nearly nine years, Sue Simon and Eileen Vickers have faithfully provided food for students of low-income families through Totes of Hope, and for that reason, their friend Chris French, who is a volunteer with the program, nominated them for Person of the Year to recognize their hard work. 

“I nominated Eileen Vickers and Sue Simon for POY as they are very deserving of this recognition because of the countless hours they devote to Totes of Hope and the impact they have made in the lives of countless children in our community,” French said. 

Although the program isn’t new, this year the women had to work extra hard because of the pandemic. 

“It has been a year that it was deeply needed. These ladies stepped up and helped fill the need,” said Newcastle Elementary School Principal Brandy Holmes. “They did
it with their usual caring,
calm and positive way … Both of these ladies display genuine compassion and love for children.”

Normally, a bag of food is sent home for the weekend, and in the summer when school is not in session, Vickers and Simon organize putting bags on the bookmobile, so kids can still be fed. 

“Hunger doesn’t end when school takes summer break. So, Eileen and Sue came up with a plan to put bags of food on the bookmobile during the summer months,” French said. 

But COVID-19 presented a problem because the bookmobile wasn’t operating, so Simon and Vickers weren’t sure how the bags would be delivered. 

“That was one of those moments where we thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’” Vickers said. 

But their prayers were answered, and the local bus drivers stepped up to help deliver over 130 bags twice
a week, every week. By the end of summer, 3,689 bags had been delivered, according to Vickers. 

“The food insecurity in our community increased during this time. Eileen and Sue stepped into action to ensure elementary and middle school students continued to receive bags of food twice a week,” French said. 

The idea for the program began when local students were showing up to school hungry on Monday after the weekend. Vickers, a former Newcastle Middle School counselor for 30 years, and Simon, a retired physical education and health teacher at Newcastle Elementary School for 28 years, knew they had to do something about it. And at the start of the 2012 second school semester, Totes of Hope was born.

“I knew the need was there for a weekend food program,” Simon said, so she enlisted the help of Vickers, whom she said she couldn’t do it without. 

“The miracle of this whole thing is probably Eileen,” she added. 

Vickers was on her way to a Ministerial Association meeting to request financial aid for Blessings in a Backpack, which is a similar nonprofit organization, when she heard about Totes of Hope on the radio. Both programs are run by the Food Bank of the Rockies, but Totes of Hope proved to be a better fit. 

“It’s a very fitting name,” Vickers said. 

Totes of Hope sends bags of food home with students in a working, low-income family weekly, so that they are nourished over the weekend and can focus better at school during the week. 

“If you’re not nourished, you can’t produce,” Simon said. 

The bags are prepared weekly by Simon and Vickers, along with other volunteers, and dropped off at the schools where helpers discreetly sneak them into the backpacks and lockers of the students, so everything remains confidential. Each bag is packed with various items such as canned goods, cereals, granola bars and fruit—anything that can be easily made and last the kids through the weekend. 

“They both have a servant’s heart and always have the needs of our children at the forefront of their minds. They work tirelessly behind the scenes in ordering and stocking food and organizing volunteers to help pack bags and deliver food weekly,” said Kim Conzelman, director of Eastern Wyoming College outreach at NHS. 

Although it’s hard work, Vickers and Simon do it anyway because “kids are important to us.” When they see the faces of kids light up with excitement or watch them share their food with others in need, it makes it well worth the effort and time, they said. 

“If just one kid benefits from it or has a better life, that’s just perfect,” Simon said.

Most of the food is provided by the Food Bank of the Rockies because it gives “more bang for the buck,” according to Simon, but they largely depend on and are grateful for the support of the community through financial donations and volunteer time. Whenever there were moments of tight budgets or uncertainties on how the bags would be delivered, the community stepped in and generously offered to help. 

“Our prayers are always answered,” Vickers said. 

A group of Methodist women, spearheaded by French, decided to invest in the program, as well as students from Future Business Leaders of America, who made cards of encouragement and donated coupons. Totes of Hope has been the recipient of Pinnacle Bank’s Festival of Trees for three years. 

People even offered to be put on a call list whenever a need comes up. Recently, Vickers and Simon called a few people for money, and next thing they knew, a fridge was purchased, so now they can store food and buy fresh fruit. The two ladies are also very grateful for the donations of the local grocery stores. 

“They’re so good to us,” Simon said. 

Vickers and Simon said they couldn’t do it without the help of volunteers. French and her husband, Herb, are instrumental in the work of Totes of Hope, whether it’s writing letters requesting money, selling sewing projects and donating the profits or unloading the delivery truck. Vickers and Simon said that without the help of the Frenches, and other volunteers, their work would be a lot harder. 

“We’re so blessed to have helpers,” Simon said. 

Their compassion, dedication and kindness make Vickers and Simon the perfect fit for Person of the Year, according to French, because they put in a lot of work to feed the kids in our community. Conzelman echoed French and said the ladies are “giving and selfless.” 

“These ladies are so deserving of recognition but would never put themselves out there to be recognized,” Holmes said. “They are true examples of the wonderful people in our community.”

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