Catasauqua Press

Thursday, June 20, 2019

New CASD program helps students with food insecurity

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 by Samantha Anderson sanderson@tnonline.com in School

Catasauqua Area School District has a new program dedicated to helping students who suffer from food insecurity.

Catasauqua Community Cares Program (C3P) started in May 2018. According to Lois Reed, district business supervisor and program volunteer, C3P sends a backpack filled with food home with students over the weekend when they may not otherwise have much access to food.

“We found that when students were not provided a breakfast and lunch at school, many of our students arrived hungry on Monday,” Reed said.

Food insecurity thoughts can often override learning and achievements in the mind of a student. Reed reported that 58 percent of the district’s students receive free or reduced lunch.

When C3P began, there were 22 students and five nonschool-aged children sent home with food. According to Reed, the program currently sends food home with 120 students and 28 nonschool-aged children.

Service Electric Cable TV Inc. donated the bags the students use to transport the food. Each bag is packed with two breakfast and two lunch items to sustain the student over the weekend. The program is currently stationed at Catasauqua Middle School.

Students at the schools are also involved with the program. According to Reed, the middle school special education life skills students pack the bags and Catasauqua High School life skills students deliver the bags to the high school and to Sheckler Elementary School. In addition to packing and delivering, the students check expiration dates on the donated food to make sure it is safe.

“This provides a great learning opportunity using real life skills,” Reed said.

Marie Hallquist, life skills teacher, and Joanne Heffner, instructional aide, have been instrumental in the program, according to Reed. They oversee the sorting, packing and distribution of the food.

“They have developed a great system for helping students learn important skills while getting all the bags packed,” Reed said.

According to Reed, there are several other major players in C3P who are vital to its day-to-day operations. These include middle school Principal Melissa Inselmann and Amy Dymond-Jonse and Shannon Van-Spanje, guidance counselors. Community member Melanie Doll assists with the program as well. Rita Millhouse helps with cash and food donations from First Presbyterian Church, and Bill Nothstein assists through the Mrs. Nothstein’s Helping Hands Fund. Reed took a moment to mention the staff at all of the district buildings who have donated to the program and help keep the program running smoothly.

According to Reed, the biggest goal for the future is maintaining sustainability for the program.

“The need is there, and the benefits are great,” she said.

The backpacks bring relief to families whose budgets are already stretched and ensure the students have the food and nutrients they need to succeed. Students are more able to concentrate and excel when not hungry or worried about where their next meal is coming from.

To protect the privacy of the students involved in the program, Reed reported the bag pickup is discreet and does not attach any social stigma. She mentioned the students are excited and thankful during pickup.

The group has overcome its first big challenge of the year — Thanksgiving break. They were able to send approximately 150 students home with a jar of peanut butter, bread, box of cereal, pasta, sauce and macaroni and cheese to help families get through the break.

C3P members hosted a craft and vendor fair Nov. 18 to raise funds to prepare for the longer Christmas break. Doll organized the event. Christmas break is 10 days without breakfast and 11 days without lunch being provided by the schools. They want to ensure all the students in the program are taken care of and fed during that time.

Community members can help by donating to the program. Food can be dropped off to the middle school, 850 Pine St. The group is looking for macaroni and cheese, canned soup, peanut butter, individual snacks, crackers, pudding cups, fruit cups, granola bars and breakfast bars.

The group also accepts cash donations and checks made payable to Catasauqua Area School District Activities — C3P. According to Reed, $17.20 will purchase 96 breakfast cereals.

C3P does not only focus on food insecurity. It is also running a coat drive for new or gently used coats to keep Catasauqua kids warm this winter. Reed mentioned Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Northampton, and Holy Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church, Catasauqua, have already donated more than 40 coats to the program.

Coats may be dropped off at the Catasauqua Borough Municipal Complex, 90 Bridge St. According to Reed, borough Councilwoman Jessica Kroope was heavily involved in getting the coat drive started. She approached Catasauqua Area School District Board of Education with the idea for a coat drive at its Sept. 11 meeting.

“The bottom line is the program is doing so much good for our students who receive the backpacks or coats, and it has been really good for our special education students as well,” Reed said.

For more information on C3P, you can reach out to c3p@cattysd.org.