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May 21, 2020

Denise Skidmore Feeds Hungry Children

Denise Skidmore

Denise Skidmore working in her garden. She is the indirect material planner in Trane’s commercial HVAC manufacturing facility in Clarksville, Tennessee, and the founder of Fuel for Kids.

In late 2004 Denise Skidmore read an article about children whose only food came from their schools. These chronically hungry children didn’t have access to food at home.

“It really pulled on my heart strings, but I thought there weren’t hungry children in my community because my kids grew up in these schools and I would have heard about it,” Denise said. “So I started asking teachers, principals, bus drivers and anyone I came into contact with, and they all told me stories about children in my community who did not have enough food to eat.

“I knew I couldn’t leave that undone.”

Denise is the indirect material planner in Trane’s commercial HVAC manufacturing facility in Clarksville, Tennessee, and she’s the founder of Fuel for Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides free meals to hungry children discreetly and with their dignity intact.

Fuel cells across Clarksville

Denise did the legwork to get Fuel for Kids off the ground in 2004, forming partnerships with 70 Clarksville churches and businesses who signed on to independently fund and pack meals – she calls them fuel cells. The meals are distributed to 2,300 students in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, and the decentralized model worked like a well-oiled machine for 15 years. And then coronavirus came to town.

“When the virus caused our schools to close down, I was nervous and not sure how we were going to manage all 70 locations,” Denise said. “Children are literally surviving on this food. Then I received a message from a woman offering money for food and help with deliveries. She told me she’d been a Fuel child and would have starved to death if it wasn’t for Fuel for Kids. That’s when I knew I needed to keep this going.”

Feeding kids despite the coronavirus

Denise secured space in a church to centralize operations so Fuel for Kids could continue to provide meals during the pandemic. Volunteers packed 700 meals in the first week; now they’re bagging 7,000 meals per week, all while social distancing, wearing masks and gloves and taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The growth of Fuel for Kids has been phenomenal,” Denise said. “We’ve had to dig really deep to keep it going. We created an Amazon wish list, and members of the community are helping with food donations and creative fundraising efforts.”

Get to know Denise Skidmore:

Did we mention that Denise also works full time at Trane?

How does she do it? Find out in this a Q&A with Denise:

Q: How do you manage running a nonprofit in addition to working full time?

A: This is what I do after work and during my lunch hour. The minute I leave Trane’s parking lot my mind is on Fuel for Kids. I write thank you notes at night – every night, seven nights a week. During the pandemic, I’m working 14-hour days between Trane and the nonprofit. I spend Saturdays packing meals with the other volunteers. It just doesn’t stop!

Q: Why is it so important to you that children have enough food to eat?

A: Some children go without food starting from lunchtime on Friday until breakfast on Monday morning. That’s 67 hours without food. After 48 hours without food, children’s brain cells start to degenerate.

Because of Fuel partners and volunteers, we’ve seen graduation rates increase and children become excited to go to school because they know they’ll be fed. When children have enough food to eat we see less juvenile crime and reduced gang activity.

Q: The success of these children is important to you. Why?

A: First of all, I care about my community and the companies and organizations in it. I’ve lived here for more than 30 years and I’ve witnessed tremendous growth. We’ve come a long way to make sure children are being educated, but if we’re not meeting their basic needs, they won’t be successful.

I want children to feel like they’re part of the community and feel loved and respected, with their dignity intact. Maybe someday they’ll become active in the community and volunteer to help others. I also want these children to know they’re not alone – there are other hungry children like them – and I want to help build them up so they’re part of society, instead of feeling like victims.

Someday I might work alongside these young people and see them in other organizations I’m a part of. They don’t know who I am – I don’t want them to say thank you. I want them to grow up to be responsible and successful adults.

If we’re doing anything to help society, we need to preserve each other’s dignity and be respectful, compassionate and kind.

Fast Facts about Denise:

Grew up in: Omaha, Nebraska

Lives in:
Clarksville, Tennessee

Family:
I have six siblings and 29 nieces and nephews. I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for 21 years. Our daughter is a biology teacher and has three sons; our son works in Trane’s Clarksville facility as a VAMT. That stands for Vacation, Absentee, Medical, Training – he knows every job on his line and fills any position when a team member is absent.

Hobbies: Flower gardening – I have several flower gardens and they bloom throughout the year. I enjoy fossil finding and rock hunting, and I love to travel and experience different cultures.

Favorite pets: I have two rescue dogs, Penny, a chocolate lab/pitbull mix, and Cole, a mastiff/pitbull mix.

First real paycheck: I worked as a file clerk in Mutual of Omaha’s group claims department.

Best advice you ever received: Go see the world – there is so much to see and learn.

Would like to invent: A self-cleaning car and home. I don’t mind the work, but the time is better spent serving others.

Least favorite chore: Oh, jeepers. Dusting!

Super hero you’d like to be: Fuel lady. Oh, wait – that’s me!

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