Guest view: Neighbors helping neighbors can make a healthy community
There is an interesting book titled “The Roseto Story: An Anatomy of Health.” This was copyrighted in 1979 and is about the community in Roseto, Pa., in the Slate Belt area near Bangor and Pen Argyl during the 1960s. It shows people in Roseto overwhelmingly helping their neighbors. Health issues decreased because everyone was looking out for everyone else. More importantly, residents felt a strong bond with fellow neighbors and were involved with the community they lived in. Everyone helped someone. Therefore, everyone together strengthened the community.
Denise Continenza, who oversees the Communities That Care (CTC) program with Penn State, Whitehall-Coplay School District and the community at large, introduced this interesting book at a CTC meeting earlier this year. I am a liaison to CTC representing Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative. What a great community we would have in 2016 if this were done here in Whitehall and Coplay!
In 2014, I was a member of CTC and learned that based on the 2013 PA Youth Survey (PAYS), 16.1 percent of sixth-graders worry the food at home is going to run out before the family has money to buy more. The state rate is 9.1 percent. Overall, 14.2 percent of youth in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 worry about the same, compared to 9.5 percent statewide.
Nearly 9 percent of 12th-graders said they have skipped a meal due to their family not having enough money to buy food. The state rate is 5.8 percent.
This concerned me then, as it does now, and I said I would work on a hunger initiative.
We broke away from CTC as a committee this year because hunger is widespread in all of our community, not just with school-age students. We want to help and be a reference source with anyone hungry in Whitehall and Coplay.
Please recognize that the hunger issue is real, and it is here in Whitehall and Coplay. It is everywhere today. With the number of students qualifying for the free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs, this should tell you that others including, but not limited to, seniors and working people need our help.
I thank Whitehall-Coplay School Board and especially Dr. Lorie Hackett, assistant superintendent, for adding a free and reduced breakfast program to help the students this school year. A free and reduced lunch program was already in place. Below is the data by area as of April 20.
Total Whitehall students — 3,946:
Free lunch — 1,756 (44.5 percent)
Reduced lunch — 260 (6.6 percent)
Total Coplay students — 439:
Free lunch — 227 (51.7 percent)
Reduced lunch — 32 (7.3 percent)
I would love Whitehall and Coplay today to be like Roseto in the 1960s. I desperately need your help. Will you please stand up and help me in the community you live in? Please become friendly with your neighbors. You will be surprised how many people who live on your block need food and, more importantly, friendly support. You will be shocked by what you find and will be glad you made the effort to reach out and become friendlier. You can show someone you do care. Block by block, we can all work together to make Whitehall and Coplay a community that really does cares.
There are many people who are living from paycheck to paycheck on Social Security and pension checks. One small item like a car repair sets these people back for months. Food is a big issue because it is costly.
Please start to talk with and help your neighbors. If you have a senior or an older couple living on your street, bring them a meal. Some do not drive. Ask if you can pick up something at the store or take them with you when you are shopping. You would be surprised how many people need help but are too proud to ask for it. You would never suspect nor will they come out and ask for help. Become friendly, and you will see things that will let you know they could use help. People need to trust people. This comes slowly but surely. Please make an effort to know your neighbors.
Most seniors do not eat healthy or well because they do not want to or cannot cook for themselves. If you know of kids who live on your block, do the same. Offer a meal to the family or give them milk, fresh fruits or vegetables.
This is a start.
Please tell your friends, families and neighbors about our free community meals. The next one is May 17 at Egypt Community Church. Offer to bring them to the meal. These meals are to help the hungry and to serve as fellowship time for those who need to be with people. They are people like you and me. I attend these meals monthly. Call me for more information at 610-266-5241.
Please let people know about the Whitehall and Coplay food pantries and a special program called Senior Boxes. Most people do not know we have them. People must qualify to receive the benefits of these programs.
Please start a garden and share the vegetables (fruits of your labor) with your neighbors and the two local food banks.
A huge project we are starting to work on that you can help me with is helping all these kids who qualify for a free or reduced breakfast and lunch during the summer months when school is out. A summer food program takes a lot of work and cooperation but is very achievable. The hunger initiative is in the process of gathering information and wants to start a summer feeding program in 2017. This will take a year to do correctly. This is a big project, and we need the help of many residents and businesses to get this organized. We want to do this correctly and want to make sure kids are safe getting to and from the locations.
Please take a moment and look at your communities — Coplay, Egypt, Cementon, Hokendauqua, Stiles, West Catasauqua and Fullerton. Let me know what places are available in your areas that can accommodate kids for breakfast or lunch. These can be churches, recreation areas, businesses and other places. We need locations and then volunteers.
I will have another article specifically on summer food programs later this summer. I have been gathering much information on this through attending many local food program meetings like Lehigh Valley Food Policy Food Access, Easton Hunger Coalition, local organizations, school districts that are doing the program and USDA.
This is your community. These are your kids and family members. This is not someone else’s problem. This takes every one of us to believe in our communities and step up to take the challenge. No one should be hungry in this country or in this community. Help me, please.
Call me at 610-266-5241 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neighbor by neighbor, one at a time, we can all do a small part to strengthen our community.