It looks much like you would expect a food pantry to look – shelves stocked with simple staples, and lots of them. But instead of being in a church basement, or any of the other usual spots for such a service, it’s located in a storage space at the ConVal SAU offices. Because this pantry is specifically for school children.
“When we tell people how many children we serve, you can hear the gasp. Because they can’t believe it,” said Linda Caracappa, one of the coordinators of ConVal’s End 68 Hours of Hunger program.
End 68 is state program designed to send school children home with enough food to get them through the weekend – a crucial service for families that rely on free and reduced lunch programs during the week.
Currently, said Caracappa, the school sends home a bag of food with 104 children each week. That number’s grown significantly since the program started, when they were serving 44 students. And she’s like to see it continue to grow, said Caracappa. When ConVal first started the program, a consortium of principals, nurses and teachers identified up to 170 students that might benefit from such a program – and ConVal has over 670 students that qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Students might get a bag with cereal, two cans of soup, a jar of peanut butter, a sleave of crackers, a pasta, macaroni and cheese, even snacks like nutrition bars and fruit cups.
Local food pantries are crucial, explained Caracappa, but often are run by volunteers and might have limited hours or can be difficult for parents to get to. End 68 puts the food directly in kids hands from a place they have easy and every day access to.
It takes a small army of volunteers to do the shopping, sorting and inventory to keep the program, which only started last year, running smoothly, said Caracappa.
Jessica Scharmett, 17, of Temple, who volunteers for End 68 as part of her required volunteer hours as a member of the National Honor Society and ConVal’s Interact Club, said that she wanted to put in her hours there, because she sees it as a opportunity to be directly involved in helping fellow students in her community.
“It’s important to realize how privilged we are. It’s a great eye-opener,” said Scharmett. “There are so many factors that go towards a student getting a good education. Making sure they’re not hungry is just one of them. It’s important for schools to help out with that.”
Rindge Memorial School has recently started a similar program to send students home with food for the weekend. And Conant High School also provides a program during the summer where students under the age of 18 can stop in to be served lunch. And for those that aren’t able to transport themselves to the school to access that program, the First Congregational Church in Rindge has sought to fill that gap.
“The members of the church saw families facing food insecurity. Some of those families are getting assistance though the free and reduced lunch program, but when school’s not in session, that need doesn’t go away,” said the Rev. David Jadlocki.
Through the church’s “Got Lunch?” program, the church provides food for families that sign up for the program during the summer and school vacations, trying to fill that gap.
Got Lunch has been running for five years now, said Jadlocki, though it is only since 2013 that the program started to serve Jaffrey as well as Rindge. Most of the families they serve now are from Jaffrey, said Jadlocki – 67 percent of the 195 children from 85 families they deliver food to.
“We recognized the need was there,” said Jadlocki, of the decision to expand the program to students from both towns. “And this is supposed to be a cooperative school district – a cooperative community.”
In order to make sure that all the students have access to the food, the church makes it simple. Those that have signed up for the program get bags delivered directly to their door, once a week during the summer, and at the beginning of the week during school vacations. Often, said Jadlocki, they are leaving food in a designated location, since most of the parents are working during the day – which is exactly the issue in many families getting access to food programs during the summer.
“It’s easy to think that food insecurity is something that exists somewhere else,” said Jadlocki. “In these rural areas, there’s a lot of hidden poverty. It’s easy to overlook. But it really exists, and it is a significant need, particularly for children and the elderly.”
Food or monetary donations to ConVal’s End 68 Hours of Hunger can be made at any local ConVal school. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Monetary donations to the Got Lunch? program can be mailed to the chuch P.O. box 451 in Rindge, with checks made out to Got Lunch?