Helping to keep young stomachs full in Greene

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The school year in Greene County is winding down, but that doesn’t mean its vacation time for Greene County Food Security Partnership, a broad community collaboration that helps fill stomachs in the county.


The Community Foundation of Greene County, the fiscal sponsor of the county’s Weekend Food Program, received a grant last week from Alpha Natural Resources that will go toward providing packages of food for elementary school-aged children in each of the five school districts in the county for the 2014-15 academic year.


The Greene County Weekend Food Program, also known as a backpack program, exists because of the Food Security Partnership. It provides a packet of child-friendly food items to help supplement weekend meals for a limited number of students who are selected by school social workers, food service staff or other teachers and administrators, based on family circumstances and need.


It is unfortunate that without cooperation among school districts, the Community Foundation, corporations and generous individuals, youngsters could very well be hungry until they return to school Monday and get lunch.


This grant, like all contributions to the Weekend Food Program, will be used to purchase food for the weekend food packages. Most of the food supplies are purchased through the schools’ food service system to provide more nutritious meals at a greatly reduced cost. The food packets are prepared by volunteers and then distributed confidentially to the children by a school social worker or teacher.


In 2012, Alpha Natural Resources provided a start-up grant for the program, which began with just approximately 12 children in Carmichaels School District and 24 children in West Greene School District. Now, all five school districts in Greene County have a Weekend Food Program in their elementary schools, serving about 140 children across the county.


Bettie Stammerjohn, executive director of Community Foundation of Greene County, said, “This isn’t a handout program for every student. In fact, only a very small number of children in each school are invited to participate. It really is based on need.”


Yet, Stammerjohn said even with the Alpha grant, the Community Foundation, as the fiscal sponsor, still will be looking for an additional $10,000 to support the program in all five districts when fall arrives. Even with the discounted pricing the food service programs use to purchase the food, each package costs an average of $5 per child each week.


That’s what makes this grant from Alpha Natural Resources so important, because the costs are not covered within school budgets.


We realize those budgets are tight, but surely business managers can put their creative skills to work and find some additional money so these programs can become self-sustaining within each of Greene’s school districts.


But, until then, the Weekend Food Program helps ensure no child in Greene County, once he or she leaves school for the weekend, will go hungry.


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