- Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

January 12, 2013

Backpacks, gardens, more help area kids

GROVE CITY — Children will be less hungry on the weekends if Grove City leaders have anything to do about it.

"I personally can't handle thinking about little kids going hungry," said Beth Black, director of the Grove City Chamber of Commerce, who gave a short presentation at Monday's Grove City school board work session. The meeting featured presentations from leaders of community groups that pour thousands of dollars and volunteer hours into the district and its kids.

"I'm pretty sure we all agree that kids shouldn't suffer," she said, which is why Food for Kids Backpack Program was developed in 2011 - along with the Grove City Community Garden - out of a chamber initiative called Leadership Grove City.

FKB is now being headed by Grove City Young Professionals, which is the financial arm of the program; Grove City Area United Way, administrators; and Grove City schools, which identifies the children in need.

"Hunger affects children physically, developmentally and emotionally. If they're hungry, they're have discipline problems, behavioral problems and their education is probably suffering," she said. "We want to help solve that problem."

The school provides breakfast and lunch during the school week but on the weekends some parents aren't providing food for their kids "because they aren't financially able, or they are not around," she said.

FKB is meant to fill in the gap by offering a bag of food that will be discretely placed in backpacks of qualifying kids when they are at recess, "so no one knows who is getting the food," Black said; however, kids excited to receive from the programs often reveal the food themselves.

The bags will include items like two entrees, juice boxes, milk boxes, cereal box, fruit cup, pudding cup, granola bar. The food items -- which are bought at a discount from Save a Lot in Grove City -- are kept simple in case there is no one to help the child prepare food at home.

"It will hopefully be enough to sustain them for the weekend," Black said.

She noted that there are over 500 students in Grove City schools who qualify for free lunches, and nearly 140 qualify for reduced lunches.

It would cost FKB over $67,000 a year to accommodate those kids. "It's not an extremely realistic goal to start with, but it's a goal we keep in our hearts to feed every child," Black said.

However, the program will start smaller. Letters were sent to homes of 45 kids in K-5 who receive reduced lunches; perhaps families from those kids weren't getting food stamps at home, said Terry Persch, guidance counselor at Hillview.

That attempt garnered two responses, she noted, so 65 letters were mailed to parents whose children get free lunches in those grades. Organizers are waiting for responses from that group.

"Teachers have a good idea of kids without snacks or if they are talking about being hungry," Persch said.

It may take people a while to catch on to the program, "and we know there are parents who won't fill out the forms to get the food," Black added.

Persch knows of at least one child who complains each day of "starving," she said, "and says he doesn't eat over the weekend."

She will make sure food gets to that child, even if it's through verbal permission from the parent, who has not responded to two letters, she added. Older siblings in the home will be given food, even if not in kindergarten through fifth grade.

So far, $16,000 has been raised for the program, Black said, which is set to begin Jan. 18. Cost is about $25 per month for each student.

Businesses have donated toward the cause, Black added, and FKB will solicit from churches and having a number of fundraisers, including one at Grove City Country Club in May.

"It's something that pulls at everyone's heart strings because no one wants to see kids affected negatively," Black said.

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Other presenters at the board meeting who spoke about their group's contributions to students and education were Darla Motta, president of Grove City Rotary Club, which is beginning a new drug and alcohol program to the district that involves live reenactments, called Reality Tour.

Highland Primary School Principal Jennifer Connelly spoke about the Adopt-A-Classroom program, which has had 100 businesses and individuals funding classrooms in elementary grades for school supplies since its inception.

Heather Baker, children's librarian at Grove City Community Library, talked about the many ways the library reaches out to district kids. It has the largest summer reading program in the county.

Dorry Foster, CEO of the Grove City YMCA, talked about new programs at the Y, which unveiled its new hockey arena recently and has opened up programs to reach out to middle school-age students.

Paul Goodman and Will Rose, president and vice president of the Grove City Community Garden, spoke about the garden's successful beginning last year and new things coming up, like working with kids on extra-curricular projects at the garden, which is located on the grounds of the middle school. Over 600 pounds of produce was harvested for Grove City Community Pantry last summer from the garden.

Michelle Amodei, president of the Grove City PTO, talked about the fundraisers and projects the groups do for kids. Traditionally, the PTO has reached out to elementary ages only, but opened its outreach to middle school grades this year.

It is overhauling its bylaws, and instead of meeting during the day will meet at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of the month.

The community focus workshop was the first hosted by Grove City school directors.

Published Jan. 9, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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