Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lunch Made Easy: Pay It Forward - Bento Blessings

For about a year, I have been communicating with and following the needs of a school in Kalamazoo, MI called Tree of Life.

When I saw on one of their recent update letters that they were in need of some lunch fulfillment, I knew right away it'd be the perfect way to contribute to the school.

Bento Blessings!
First, let me give you a little back story -

The Edison neighborhood in Kalamazoo is the poorest, most diverse neighborhood in the entire county. Principal, and founder, Adam Sterenberg had a calling. To move his family to the Edison neighborhood and start a Christ centered school. One that could provide education to all children regardless of their socio-economic situation. The average household income in the Edison neighborhood is $18,000/ year. Tree of Life only charges these families 5% of their household income, regardless of how many children they have attend. So, for a family making $18,000/ year that equal approximately $90/ month for a Christian education. (Information courtesy of tolschool.org)

The reason they even charge tuition is because they receive no government money. About 10% of their costs are covered by the tuition that comes from parents. 90% of their costs are paid by individuals, businesses, and churches that believe in the Vision of Tree Of Life.

Article from the local Gazette from August 2010, hanging on the walls of their school.

That is also true of their lunches - They are provided for students by volunteers and donations. Currently, they have twenty five students and two full-time teachers, but will be expanding even more next school year.

As I mentioned above, when I found out they were in need of lunch days to be fulfilled, it was my opportunity to "pay it forward". Little Miss and I have gone through an awful lot together; Heart ache, pain, loss, abuse, emotional roller coasters, poverty... and I am at a point in my life where I have been blessed. Blessed beyond my wildest dreams - Faith, family, the ability to love again and trust, a little girl who saved my life almost seven years ago... I feel I've been blessed to be a blessing. So I look for any way I can to share and give back whenever possible - to schools, organizations, friends, etc.

You'll still love me with no make up and messy hair, right? ;)

After letting Adam know I wanted to do lunches for one of the open days, I let my bento-blogging buddies know about my plans - hoping they could help me think of ideas for the masses. I was originally figuring lasagna or something along those lines that could be baked in big batches since it was on my shoulders to make it happen.

To my surprise (and gratefulness) JeeJee of AllThingsForSale & Kelly of EasyLunchBoxes immediately stepped up and wanted to help!! How cool is that!? And so "Bento Blessings" began. :)

Thankfully, I have the best Sous Chef in the entire world to help!

Bless her heart and all her help! :)
With a little preparation and planning, we began putting our bentos for the school together Monday evening and then finished up early (Tuesday) this morning before she left for school. She kept begging for me to let her miss school so she could deliver them with me later, lol.

There's one lonely box missing carrots, don't worry I put them in there! lol
Each of the kids EasyLunchBoxes had turkey and cream cheese pinwheels, veggie straws, carrots with dip, grapes and watermelon, with a chocolate chip mini chocolate zucchini muffin for dessert.

Thanks to the goodies that AllThingsForSale sent, they were also unique for both the boys and the girls. JeeJee supplied us with the dip containers, muffin holders, and all the picks.

The boys pinwheels have funny face picks and star watermelon cut outs.

The girls pinwheels have musical note picks and flower shaped watermelon cut outs.
The two teachers received larger wraps. Left is a spinach and turkey wrap with dressing.
Right is a veggie wrap (this teacher does not eat meat) with spinach, carrots, corn,
and dressing. Both have two heart picks and cherub tomatoes. Along with an added strawberry.

When I delivered them to the school, I was only able to stay for a bit since I had appointments for work scheduled. I was able to sit with the K-1st grade group while they ate their lunches (the 2nd-5th group eats after they do). I'm so thankful I got to enjoy those few moments with them!

The cheers and appreciation were priceless. When I told them they got to keep their lunchboxes and all the goodies inside, they all screamed and clapped! It was so great.

They kept showing each other what containers and fork animals they got - comparing and cheering in excitement over how fun they were to eat all their foods with!

I was so impressed with these kiddos and their manners! Eating their fruits and veggies first, then the pinwheels, saving the muffin for last. Emphatic thank you's kept being hollered my direction.

One little girl told me it was "the bestest lunch eva!" Melted my heart. Little did these kidlets know, I am the one that is thankful. They are a blessing to me - seeing them so happy and being able to do something special for them.


After some of them finished eating, the kids asked again "do we really get to keep these?" When I answered "yes", once again cheers and thank you's were shouted across the room! All the way while I was walking out the door, the kids told me thank you over and over again.

I urge each of you to find ways to "Think Outside Yourself" - how can you use your talents, or resources that are available to you, to give back to others?

I am looking forward to many more opportunities to share with these kids! I was happy to make their day, meanwhile they also made mine. Just looking at these pictures again makes me smile from ear-to-ear. I can still hear their giggles and their words. They touched my heart. 


  1. Such a wonderfully amazingly beautiful post!

  2. This is truly amazing. What a beautiful thing you, EasyLunchBoxes and All Things For Sale have done here :)

  3. That brought tears to my eyes. Amazing!

  4. That is so beautiful. What a wonderful experience for the kids and you! I love it!

  5. You rock Keeley! Truly an inspiration!

  6. Wonderful! These small things are what kids remember years from now! Just makes me smile!

  7. COOOOOOOLLLLLL!!!!! How awesome was this..God Bless all of you and your families for giving something special to some truly deserving children :-)

  8. Incredible job Keeley! Such an amazing experience for you, Little Miss and all those kiddos! :)

  9. Keeley....you are AWESOME!!!!! I got chills while reading this. Great job!!!!

  10. What an amazing job! :) You are truly an inspiration. Bravo to you and your team of supporters!

  11. This makes my heart sooo happy. Fantastic Keeley and family ...and all involved! Just Beautiful. These children will truly remember you years from now for this beautiful act of kindness. :)

  12. Keeley,
    Ok I need a moment here...tears in my eyes its hard to type. I was so touched with all the little faces! What a wonderful thing you and Jee Jee & easy lunch boxes did!

  13. This is TREMENDOUSLY wonderful Keeley! I'm so honored that my EasyLunchboxes could be a part of this. I am seriously sitting here with tears in my eyes reading this and looking at these amazing pictures and happy faces. Your inner (and outer) beauty comes blazing through your pic and this post, no makeup required!! Thank you Keeley. Wow. This really blows me away. ♥

  14. This is such a wonderful story. You've inspired each of us to pay it forward.

  15. Great story! What a way to be a blessing!

  16. Wonderful, amazing story! LOVE LOVE LOVE!

  17. I got all teary reading this! What a great experience for everyone involved!!

  18. Keeley,

    You are an angel.
    I'm so humbled by you.

  19. This is so great !!! ♥♥ ♥ KeELeY ♥♥♥ Food looks yummy! Children seems to enjoy. I love that the 2 girls were actually playing with animal food picks together. (^_^) That really gave me a big smile, and in the last picture, the girl looks so happy. You did such an amazing job. I am so proud and feel so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this wonderful event. Thank you so much ♪ ヾ(*⌒∇⌒)八(⌒∇⌒*)ツ

  20. Great post & what a fabulous thing to do! So awesome!

  21. You are truly an amazing woman, and the kind of example to your daughter that every mom should be. I teared up just reading this, but imagine the memories you left all of these kids. Very inspiring, Keeley! Thanks :)

  22. AND major warm fuzzies for EasyLunchBoxes and AllThingsForSale for their tremendous generosity and support!

  23. Oh, Keeley, this just melts my heart! What a huge blessing you are to those sweet children and their school! And how awesome that Jeejee and Kelly were able to help in a big way. Amazing job! Such a beautiful story! :)

  24. Deb (Debjord on instagram)Wednesday, May 30, 2012

    Keeley I saw the sneak preview on instagram but reading the story is just totally amazing... shedding tears in my office!

  25. Thank you for sharing this Keeley; it is truly heart warming.

  26. Great story. How awesome of all those who donated.

  27. Thank you so much to Keely, her daughter, JeeJee, Kelly and everyone else! The kids loved it and as one boy said repeatedly, "This is so CUTE." Thank you for making the kids day, mom's day, and for bringing them a healthy lunch! God bless you all and we praise God for His heart continuing to pour out on us all!
    Adam Sterenberg

  28. You aew si awesome. God is good!

  29. WOOPS
    You are so awesome. God is good!

  30. Tears in my eyes, here. What a cool, thoughtful thing to do. Major kudos to you and Little Miss, and JeeJee and Kelly.

  31. "I'm a student at Tree Of Life, and I loved the cute lunches!! They were so cute, especially the little animals. thanks a bunch!:)"
    - Elise, 8 years old, 3rd grade

    We wanted to thank you too for your willingness to help serve TOL and the kids. Volunteers like yourself truly bless our school and we are very fortunate to have that love be poured out on us. It makes TOL the unique and amazing place that it is. Elise couldn't stop talking about her lunch that day... she has already reused the box for her lunch and am sure it'll become one of her "regular"s. That little deed went a long way in blessing these kids.

    Thanks again,
    Benje & Ashley (Elise's Parents)

  32. Keeley - this is so wonderful! You truly are a blessing to those kiddos and to your readers. I so admire your kind and generous heart.

  33. I love this story. Awesome of you to organize such an undertaking.


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