Maura Rafferty and her fellow MooreKids founders heard it all the time, as they stood on the sidelines of their kid’s soccer games talking to other parents about the homeless and hungry children in town.
“In Moorestown? No way,” the other parents would say.
But they had the numbers that proved otherwise: 20 or so homeless children in the school district; nearly 400 kids (almost 10 percent) on the district’s free and reduced lunch program.
“If you have kids in the school system, you might be more aware, because your kids are going to have friends who aren’t as well off as yours. You’re going to be more in touch with what’s going on with kids,” said MooreKids secretary Melanie Levan. “If you don’t have kids in the school system, I think you are blissfully unaware of what’s going on.”
“Are we going to pretend that we have needs like the city of Camden? No,” said Rafferty, MooreKids president. “But to me, in a community such as ours, in a rich community with not just financial wealth, but rich with resources, there is no reason to not collectively support the children.”
Even before they established the 501(c)3 charity, Rafferty and her fellow MooreKids founders—Levan, Jen Brinkman and Devika Gill—were individually helping out.
Through teacher contacts at Roberts Elementary School, where her children were enrolled, Rafferty learned about students who were coming to school hungry, or who needed clothing. She reached out to friends and acquaintances and donations started rolling in. She dropped off big boxes of granola bars and cases of milk cartons.
Brinkman helped out in a similar way at South Valley Elementary School, while Levan and Gill undertook their own charitable endeavors at other schools and/or their churches.
Rafferty was quick to point out she and her friends were supplementing assistance the schools were already providing.
“At every single building, the teachers and staff have always supported these children,” she said. “We’re not trying to take over anything or replace anything, because there are clearly more needs than there are abilities to fill them. So we just want to supplement.”
Eventually, the four women—who already knew each other through their children and their involvement with Home & School—realized they could do more together than apart.
“We got to the point where we were like, ‘Why are we duplicating efforts?’” said Gill.
‘Children live the life they’re given’
At its inception, MooreKids was organized somewhat loosely. But in the year-plus since its founding, the group has become “buttoned-up,” Rafferty said. Besides their 501(c)3 status, they’re formally affiliated with the school district, have formed partnerships with the township recreation department and Lunch Rotary and have their own website.
Through those partnerships, they’ve been able to help a lot of children:
- Provided scholarships for 18 children to attend the Moorestown Recreation Department’s summer camps/summer programming
- Paid for prom tickets and provided prom dresses for several Moorestown High School students
- Ran a district-wide food drive last winter and distributed groceries to families in need
Going forward, they’re planning to start a breakfast food drive for students—since Roberts Elementary is the only school in the district with a federally funded breakfast program—work with the school district on a holiday gift drive and establish a general scholarship fund to pay for extracurricular activities such as sports, art and music.
Included in the group’s mission statement on its website, it reads, “MooreKids envisions that it will be the ‘go-to’ charitable organization that individuals, families, businesses and civic organizations can contact when there is a need to provide assistance to a child in a low-income family.”
“We have a lot of really big ideas,” said Gill, who explained she’d like to start a career-oriented mentorship program for middle and high school students in the next few years. “I would love to see us really making a difference in the life of a child.”
Though MooreKids may have started out as a way to provide the most basic needs—food, clothing—to children, the women who founded it believe it can be much more comprehensive.
“We wanted every kid to be able to take advantage of everything this town has to offer, including sports, arts, theater, mentor opportunities, internship opportunities—the sky’s the limit,” said Brinkman. “We want to make those things available.”
Some have questioned the need for an organization like MooreKids in a well-to-do community like this, the women explained, and a few have even suggested if the families they’re helping can’t afford to live here, perhaps they should move. But Rafferty couldn’t disagree more.
“Children live the life they’re given,” she said. “They have no choice in their life, and their parents are here trying to do better for them. Those parents and those families are here for the same reasons we’re here, and the diversity only enriches our community. And I believe in my heart that it is our responsibility as a community to help children be as successful and realize their potential as possible.”
For more information and to find out how you can help, including donations and other ideas,visit MooreKids’ website.