Tackling food insecurity for young students
Nonprofit Island Harvest educates about program helping to feed students whose families can’t always afford to
Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger in America study found that there were 316,000 people on Long Island who struggled with food insecurity and hunger. The Kids Weekend Backpack Feeding Program through Island Harvest provides packs of nutritious, shelf-stable food in 28 schools to more than 1,700 children per week on Long Island. The program began in 2006, distributing over 10,000 packs the first year, and has grown to over 62,000 packs per year.
At Brookhaven Elementary School, about 21 packs are handed out each week. That number is down from 50 packs per week last year, due to funding shortages at the nonprofit. The children who receive supplemental food support through the Kids Weekend Backpack program come to school on Mondays and after extended holidays feeling better, are more alert and are better prepared to participate in class and other school activities, school officials said.
The children in the program rely on school-provided lunches and breakfasts, but may not have solid meals on Saturdays, Sundays and school vacations. The free packs contain four nutritious, ready-to-eat meals, two snacks and two servings of milk and juice. And before holiday breaks, twice as many food packs are delivered to cover the students for the weekend they are not in school. The food packs are distributed with newsletters that include age-appropriate multilingual games and puzzles encouraging healthy eating, plus information for parents about local food resources.
“We have to understand that in order to meet the needs of our students and to really reach that goal, it’s an important piece to give them those things that they need to be successful,” said Rebecca Raymond, principal of Brookhaven Elementary.
Raymond said the school has worked with families to address food insecurity and to get them the resources they need. School staff said they receive compliments from families about the packs and the kids have enjoyed receiving them. The goal is to reduce stress at home, which trickles down from the parents to the students and gives them a better foundation both at home and at school. Since the number of packs decreased by over half, there is a waiting list for students to be able to receive one.
“There’s no judgment when it comes to Island Harvest and our distribution of food,” said Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest. “The truth of the matter is that any one of us at any point in our lives may become in need.”
Island Harvest sites are located within 11 school districts, including Bay Shore, Brentwood, Bridgehampton, Brookhaven, Central Islip, Copiague, Elmont, Lawrence, Riverhead, Westbury and Wyandanch.
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