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Friday, 10 June 2016 09:03

Summer Means Hunger for Some Saratoga Schoolchildren

By | Education
SARATOGA SPRINGS — There are children suffering from hunger in the Saratoga Springs City School District. Of the 1,299 students who receive Free and Reduced Price Lunch (about 20 percent of the student body), too many of them have no other source of food than what the school provides. No dinner at home. No meals over the weekend. No food when school is closed for holidays or breaks. No food for the summer. The reality of these troubling facts hit Karey Hall Trimmings, music teacher at Dorothy Nolan Elementary School, pretty hard when she met Richard [last name withheld for privacy], a sweet, shy student who suffered quietly from neglect and hunger every weekend and no one knew. “It was extremely personal. I grew up in Saratoga. This wasn’t some child in a far away place. It came from a real child who lives with our family and is our son now,” said Trimmings. “He was hungry, neglected, and it took him a year to tell his story. Everything he owned fit in one laundry basket. He told us he didn’t have food on the weekend. If there’s one child in this land of plenty, there’s probably more. It lit a fire under my heart.” After Trimmings and her husband become the legal custodians Richard, she founded the Saratoga Nutrition Assistance for Children Program (SNACPack) in January 2015. She worked with other teachers to identify those children who are chronically hungry, looking for signs such as extreme hunger on Monday mornings or after holidays; lingering around food or asking for seconds; chronically dry, itchy eyes and cracked lips; excessive absences and/or tardiness; short attention span/inability to concentrate; and other signs. Then they are referred to the program. The program serves the entire district but is not a program that parents can call to sign up. Teachers, guidance counselors, and other professionals in the district, such as those working with homeless students, refer students. SNACPack is designed to meet the needs of hungry children on weekends, when other resources are not available. The program provides backpacks filled with food that is child-friendly, shelf-stable, and easily-consumed. Bags are packed each week by volunteers and discreetly distributed to participating children every Friday afternoon. “Every Thursday we pack backpacks with food,” said Trimmings. “It’s been 109 backpacks the last few weeks. We were surprised how many kids were not have having enough food over the weekend, so some receive Family Bags with extra food for other family members.” Richard well knows how unaware the general public is about local hunger. He has one more year before he graduates, and he is thinking of studying psychology in college. He hopes everyone will donate to the program. “I think they should support it because everyone thinks Saratoga is so perfect but it’s really not,” he said. “They turn their shoulder thinking a person’s going to be okay, but it doesn’t happen. I just want people to be aware of their neighbors, because your neighbors could be the ones that need help and you wouldn’t know it.” Trimmings said Richard’s willingness to share his story helped light fires in others’ hearts, too, and he was a huge help in getting the program rolling. “Richard was so private, so shy, so embarrassed, and did not get in trouble,” said Trimmings. “Him allowing us to tell his story has put a personal face to this and to be able to recognize and say to these kids that not only are we going to help you with food, but we see you. We see you and care about you.” Trimmings began the program through the St. Clement’s outreach program and their very active food pantry. Donations and volunteers poured through the hearts of the parishioners and team there, and Trimmings said she couldn’t be more grateful. But so far the program has only offered support during the school year, and the need in summer and throughout the year is so great that Trimmings and her husband filed the paperwork for the program to become its own 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, so that it can expand its ability to fundraise. The vital role of St. Clements will continue through the helpful volunteers and space to pack the backpacks each week. According to Trimmings, she’s been working with CAPTAIN Youth Services on additional summer food programs. Some of those programs are still in the works, but will be announced soon with notices going home in students’ backpacks. “This is not just another program handing out,” said Trimmings. “These are children. They can’t get a job to buy groceries and cook at 9 years old. I’ve seen first hand a child failing out of school, who never played a sport in his life, and I’ve seen what just having food has done for this child. To be labeled learning disabled because he doesn’t have enough food. Food insecurity is if they never know if there’s going to be a next meal. It gives them learning issues, sleep issues, and more. Up until three years ago, I had no idea there were kids like this in this district. Not in Africa. If we feed them and they have enough energy to function in school, they can do well in school and have opportunities to break the cycle. Sure, there’s the philosophy of teach the father how to fish. Well, we have to reach the kids first.” Each backpack costs $13 and they are helping about 150 children currently. The bags are packed with specific nutritional guidelines on number of grains, proteins, etc., so the program cannot accept food donations. The cash donations are used to purchase specific foods through the food bank, Hannaford and Dollar Tree. They are looking for companies willing to donate food, however, in large quantities. Instead of 6 loaves of bread, they need 109 loaves of bread, so they are looking for corporate donors who can donate at that level. And they will always need volunteers. In addition to St. Clement’s, there have been volunteers from book clubs, athletic teams and others. All are welcome. Right now, there is an immediate need to fund the summer program. The SNACPack program is funded entirely by local donations. One hundred percent of donations go toward running the SNACPack program. The cost to sponsor a child for a full school year is $520. For more information on donating, volunteering, or generally about SNACPack, visit www.snacpackprogram.com.
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