When a coalition of nonprofits announced it would be putting together a summer series of educational activity boxes to give to Rutland County youth at no charge, it set an ambitious goal of creating 500 boxes for the first in the series.
But interest was so great that on Tuesday, representatives of the groups, that included 4-H, the Rutland City Recreation and Parks Department and Wonderfeet Kids Museum, assembled 1,500 units for “Out of the Box-es” which will be distributed today, according to Kimberly Griffin, 4-H educator for Rutland and Bennington counties.
“Within the first 24 hours, we had, I don’t know, it was something like 100 sign-ups. Then, by the end of that week, we were at about 800 to 900, and so we realized really quickly that this was bigger than we could have ever imagined,” Griffin said.
Griffin, who is leading the project called, “Out of the Box-es,” said the nonprofits who came together for summer programming, were expecting youth to have fewer opportunities over the summer as Vermont is still under a state of emergency in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The pandemic was also expected to mean smaller or canceled summer camp programs.
Griffin said the organizers expected there would be interest in material created to be fun and educational. What happened at the Vermont Farmers Food Center on Tuesday, while the boxes were being packed and assembled was an attempt to meet that interest.
“If we could pull it off, since we thought we would gradually increase, if we could pull it off by jumping into the deep end then we needed to do it. I’m a ‘deep-end jumper,’ so the very first box (in the series), we’re packing 1,500,” Griffin said.
The representatives of a number of sites, most of them public libraries in Middlebury, Vergennes, Poultney and Rutland, have agreed to accept the boxes so the families who requested them can pick them up at an easily accessible and nearby location. Fair Haven Concerned is the pickup location in Fair Haven.
Each of the boxes will have a theme. The first box recognizes that June is Dairy Month.
The contents include instructions and materials for making butter, paneer, which is a soft cheese, and non-bake cookies. The instructions include a shopping list of what’s needed to complete the projects.
Kids also can participate in a remote video meeting to get instructions on how to use some of the material in the box.
Danielle Monroe, executive director of Wonderfeet Kids Museum, was packing boxes with Mason jars on Tuesday.
“We want to make sure that kids, whether they can come out to the museum or they’re stuck at home, still have activities to do,” Monroe said.
Wonderfeet’s involvement also includes developing some of the content for future boxes, storing some of the materials until the time comes for packing the boxes, providing the van that will take the boxes to the pickup sites and leading some of the remote instruction that will be part of Out of the Box-es, Monroe added.
Andy Paluch, program director for Come Alive Outside, like all at the food center on Tuesday, was wearing a mask as he rushed from table to table moving boxes where they needed to be for the next step in production.
Paluch pointed out that Come Alive Outside, a local nonprofit that encourages kids to engage in healthy outdoor activities, releases a yearly “summer passport” that is a guide to summer activities. This year, the passport, which goes to about 3,000 kids in Rutland County, has added some ideas that will line up with the contents of the boxes.
Griffin said she was “blown away” by what was happening with Caprice Hover, executive director of the United Way of Rutland County, and two lifeguards who work for Rutland Rec among those coming together to help local youths.
“It is incredible. Part of me is blown away … all of me is blown away. But I’m not truly surprised because Rutland is such an incredible community and when there is a need we come together,” she said.
“Out of the Box-es” was created as a group of nonprofits and educational agencies were working together on the Vermont Youth Project that was developed by Vermont Afterschool, a nonprofit dedicated to summer educational opportunities.
The Vermont Youth Project, according to the Vermont Afterschool website, has a commitment to “giving youth a voice and creating healthy spaces for youth to be themselves, engage with peers, learn new skills and connect with caring adults.”
Griffin said the group will be coming together to assemble boxes every other Tuesday to be released to families the Thursday following.