Food pantry sprouts at school

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The Rome Teachers Association (RTA) is contributing $1,600 toward start-up costs for a food pantry at Gansevoort Elementary School, as part of the continued growth of the community schools program in the school district.

The RTA will be buying a refrigerator, freezer and the initial food to outfit the pantry, according to an association announcement Monday. Food will include dairy products, meats and fresh produce. “Since the inception of the community school initiative that was started by RTA members, we have become keenly aware of the many difficult situations that our school children and families are facing. Food insecurities is high on the list,” said RTA member and Community Schools Chair Joseph Eurto.

RTA President Rob Wood added “the Rome community schools initiative continues to flourish in addressing the needs of our families. Partnerships continue to expand....”

The pantry at Gansevoort, to be named One Big Family, is anticipated to serve many of the school’s families “as well as be open to any family in the Rome district,” Eurto said additionally on Tuesday. He anticipated it would serve “just as many if not more” as the Giving Tree Pantry that opened near the end of 2018 at Bellamy Elementary School; that facility helps serve about 50 families a month, and over 260 in December due to the long school break, he observed.

Eurto commented “we ask for no income or situation requirements; our doors of One Big Family will be open to anyone in need.” Also, “when families do come in to utilize the pantry we do sit with them to discuss their circumstance to see if our site coordinators can help in other ways, such as with housing, care management, social emotional needs, employment or medical needs.”

The community schools concept involves schools acting as “hubs” providing on-site links for local agencies to help meet various student and family needs. The program got underway in the Rome district about two years ago, including formation of the Rome Alliance for Education (RAE) non-profit organization that is operating it; initial focus was on Bellamy as well as Staley Elementary School. It was launched with the help of a $135,000 American Federation of Teachers (AFT) grant that was awarded to the RTA in September 2016. In addition, the RTA in November 2018 announced a $100,000 grant through the AFT to help the program expand into additional schools including Gansevoort.

At that site, the RAE will be focusing on projects including a 5th Quarter summer program which is a six-week “drop-in” initiative to accommodate 65 students daily for free, said Eurto; it will aim to ensure “they have snacks, lunch, activities and trips to keep them busy and safe during the summer break.” He also noted that site coordinator Stephanie Dietz distributed free lunches during the February break to more than 150 families, “to begin getting acquainted with families and their students.” Bellamy and Staley have site coordinator positions as well.

The overall program “is continuing to grow,” remarked Eurto, adding it is “now serving three of the elementary schools, but also and as importantly serving the district as a whole through a system referred to as LINK (Leader in Network and Knowledge).” This involves referrals by school district guidance counselors and administrators to RAE site coordinators who assess families’ needs and then direct them to local professional resources and services.

“This has always been a difficult or non-existent bridge, from school to community, and we have built one,” Eurto said. “Our goal is to ensure that every student of the district has their basic needs met, so that they may all be productive, engaged and successful in their education process.”

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