Pilot program to aid children facing hunger

Daily Press file photo
Amy Cherry
Staff Writer

A group of 11 St. Marys Area School District teachers are working to help provide children with necessary meals they may be lacking outside of school.
As part of the Food For Thought program, the district is partnering with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania in hopes of providing weekend and holiday break meals to at least 30 elementary children who would otherwise go hungry. Second Harvest operates the Backpack Program at 31 sites within northwest Pennsylvania.
Teachers Amanda Vollmer, Martha Philippone, Kyle Anstrom, and Tara Burford presented information about the program during Monday evening’s SMASD Board of School Directors meeting.
The teachers are all currently enrolled in the UPenn Poverty Class. The idea for the project came about as part of the class.
As part of their presentation, it was cited that according to Feeding America one in six children may not know where their next meal is coming from. This equates to 13 million children facing hunger.
The program provides children with nutritious, child-friendly food when other resources, such as school lunches and after-school meals or snacks, are not available.
They are hoping that by nourishing children’s bodies with these meals, it will also give them a better opportunity to achieve academically. Vollmer stated when children come to school hungry, they sometimes have difficulty concentrating.
Vollmer said they chose to partner with Second Harvest as they shop for all the food and deliver it to the district, which is expecting its first delivery next week. Deliveries will take place monthly. Several parents and the SMAHS National Honor Society members are planning to assist on delivery day, including assembling individual backpacks for distribution.
Backpacks are discreetly distributed to participating children at schools on Fridays in their classrooms, and helps provide the proper nutrition necessary for overall growth, physical and cognitive development and satisfactory performance in school.
Each backpack contains enough items for multiple breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
Second Harvest serves 11 counties in northwest Pa., including Elk, Cameron, Clearfield, Jefferson, McKean, Warren, Clarion, Erie, Venango, Crawford, and Forest.
A committee will decide which students are eligible and in need of participating in the program. As part of the evaluation process, the committee will look at the hundreds of recipients of the district’s free and reduced lunch program, along with administrator recommendations as well as input from cafeteria workers who often see children hiding their lunch food to take home with them.
They will also review program evaluation forms provided by Second Harvest to help determine project recipients.
In taking into considering each school’s population, half of the recipients will be from South St. Marys Street Elementary with 25 percent each from Fox Township and Bennetts Valley elementary schools.
Philippone said they have contacted area businesses, including members of the St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce in hopes of finding sponsors to help fund the program. A donation of $120 can sponsor a child for the entire school year.
Those interested in sponsoring a child may contact the district or contribute directly to Second Harvest’s Backpack Program.
The group is also applying for grants and pursuing additional funding opportunities.
Early next week the teachers will work on identifying students in need of the program. The students will be required to obtain their parents’ permission to participate in the program.
“We’re all pretty passionate about this and plan to stick with the program,” Philippone said.
The teachers are hoping to continue the project, making it a multi-year program.
They are currently piloting the program at the elementary level, but are hoping to expand it into the middle school and high school.
“Congratulations on taking on such a worthy cause,” said Superintendent Brian Toth.