Meet Laura Kopec, winner of the Daily Point of Light Award. Read their story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.
For many students, a research paper is just another grueling homework assignment. But for 16-year-old Laura Kopec, a research paper was the spark that ignited the desire, along with her sister Feeding the Fostersa nonprofit organization that provides home-cooked meals to foster families in Pinellas County, Florida.
After Laura’s research on how immigration led to the development of the United States’ foster care system, Laura learned of the struggles orphaned children of immigrants endured and was shocked to discover that living in a foster sibling group home was food insecure existed own neighborhood. So, in 2020, Laura and her sister Samantha started Feeding the Fosters. Using the cooking skills they learned at a young age in their great-grandmother Gracie’s kitchen, Laura and Samantha have prepared baked ziti and meatballs, chicken and potatoes, vegetable quiche and more for 62 foster families. Not only will you fill the tummies of foster families with a hot, nutritious meal, but you’ll also help ease the financial burden on those households and give them more quality foster care time.
What is the mission of Feeding the Fosters?
Feeding the Fosters (FTF) Inc.’s mission is to provide healthy, home-cooked meals for dinner to foster families as a gift of time. Providing meals helps foster families spend time bonding, doing homework, doctor’s appointments, and visiting birth parents instead of shopping for groceries and preparing meals. In addition, volunteers help foster children celebrate birthdays and holidays, and introduce them to a variety of culturally diverse activities and foods. This support enables the licensed foster homes to continue to take in children, knowing that the community will be there to support them.
Why is it particularly important to you to support foster families and foster children?
In the US, drug addiction has been blamed for the increasing number of foster children, and my heart is heavy knowing that children are placed in the foster care system due to unsuitable birth parents. I feel blessed that my parents have always included me in their community work, whether it be volunteering at a sibling group foster home, mentoring autistic children at church, or participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters. They have made us more inclusive by exposing us to the world and its many different cultures, and I believe every child should have access to food and love. Because of my parents’ dedication, guidance, and example, I also want to make an impact in the community.
where did you learn to cook
I started cooking at a very young age and would spend entire afternoons in my great-grandmother’s kitchen in Brooklyn. Grandma Gracie used to cook for a convent and we used to joke about how she didn’t know how to cook a meal for a few people because she used to feed an army. She taught me how to cook many Italian dishes but my favorite is baked ziti and meatballs. Now my family enjoys being together in the kitchen while following great-grandmother’s Italian recipes. I make delicious dinners for the foster kids and staff, like tacos, enchiladas, meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, chicken parmesan, quiche and more. I also love baking cookies and brownies and creating fun, seasonal cupcakes for the kids. The gift of a meal gives the foster family time to relax and enjoy the meal together, continuing the family meal tradition.
What other organizations help keep the AGV running?
Surplus food from local businesses allows us to remain sustainable. This donated surplus food, collected weekly, provides food for foster families and helps volunteers prepare healthy, home-cooked meals. I work with nonprofits like Harbor Dish, Mattie Williams, Feeding America and the Tarpon Springs Shepherd Center to support volunteers in raising funds at the end of the day from a variety of restaurants and businesses including Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden, Whole Foods Market, Publix, Sprouts Farmers Market and Einstein Bagels. By preventing food waste and recovering nutritious, healthy food, FTF can make a difference in the community by feeding the hungry and helping the environment.
How many families have you served?
Pinellas County is Florida’s second-largest foster care county, with an average of three children admitted to the system each day. In August, FTF celebrates our third year of supporting the foster community after mentoring 397 children and bringing together a community of more than 2,300 volunteers to provide 39,099 individual meals for 62 foster families. Our selection criteria was originally having two or more foster children and living in Pinellas County, but we have grown to include unrelated placements, reunited biological and newly adopted families, and also expanded our radius to Largo and part of neighboring Pasco County.
Are there any future partnerships, programs or events you are looking forward to?
I recently published a collection of recipes used by our volunteers in a cookbook which has been a great fundraiser to raise awareness for the mission. We have an upcoming Spirit Day at La Dolce Vita Creamery in June and are raising funds to pay the foster children to make their own ice cream rolls at the event. In August we will have a back-to-school drive. People can follow us Facebook and check out our website help.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I have learned that the foster care system needs more positive attention and foster children suffer because of the circumstances and decisions of others. I will be attending Girls State in Tallahassee this summer, where I will attempt to pass legislation to support foster children and promote their timely, permanent placement before they become too old for adoption or retire from the system. Foster families are heroes who open their homes and hearts to children who need love and stability.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Laura? Find local volunteer opportunities.