Helping Hungry School Children in Princeton
On any given day, there are families in Princeton who do not have enough food. This hits younger children the hardest because they are dependent on what food might or might not be on hand for each meal. Weekends are particularly tough because children are not in school to receive free or reduced-priced breakfast or lunch.
This issue of hungry children has spurred several local groups to take action. The Princeton Human Services Commission, a volunteer board, and Mercer Street Friends, another volunteer group, have joined forces with the Princeton Public Schools and Princeton University to raise awareness of this situation -- and to do something about it.
Kristin S. Appelget, director of Princeton University's Office of Community and Regional Affairs, announced on Wednesday that the university will donate $10,000 toward the cost of the new program to help hungry and "food insecure" students in Princeton's four public elementary schools. The "Send Hunger Packing" drive needs to raise $62,000 to cover the cost of sending home food packs with elementary school children (who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches) on Friday afternoons so that nutritious food will be available for children who might not be eating adequately over the weekends. Food insecurity, meaning that there is no guarantee that the next meal will be provided for or that there is a nutritious snack available, can be an issue for as many as 12 percent of all children in the Princeton Public Schools.
"This is an important project that addresses a very basic need in the lives of many of our students," said Judy Wilson, superintendent of Princeton Public Schools. "How can we seriously expect the best for children and student achievement if they are hungry?"
The program will begin by providing as many as 215 children at Community Park, Johnson Park, Littlebrook and Riverside schools in kindergarten to fifth grade with a weekend supply of nutritious snacks and drinks. "I am delighted to celebrate the lead gift from the University," Mrs. Wilson said. "It is such a generous gift -- twice what we hoped for and so meaningful for the whole community."
Mrs. Wilson praised Ross Wishnick and Leticia Fraga Nadler from the Princeton Human Services Commission and Phyllis C. Stoolmacher from Mercer Street Friends for spearheading the fundraising drive.
"This gift from the University makes us realize once again the impact the University has in recognizing the social issues and setting very clear and high priorities for what it funds and recognizes. I am here with deep gratitude," added Mrs. Wilson.
In addition to providing financial resources Princeton University hopes to support the program in other ways, according to Ms. Appelget. "There are great opportunities for our students to take a volunteer role. It's not just the initial financial resource, which of course is important, but there are other ways we will partner with this program, through the student volunteer corps, through the faculty and staff. We already do campus food drives as an institution and have students who work with Mercer Street Friends."
The Send Hunger Packing initiative could have multiple benefits, said Phyllis Stoolmacher. "First and foremost it addresses an immediate need to provide food for children who might not be eating adequately over the weekends. It also makes people aware of hunger and the consequences of hunger and ideally aware that we need better public policies to address this issue."
To raise money, the Princeton Human Services Commission and Mercer Street Friends will screen the film "A Place at the Table" starring Jeff Bridges and Tom Colicchio at the Garden Theatre on Sunday, June 9, at 4:00 pm. Tickets start at $50. The goal of $62,000 would fund the cost of the Friday food packs for two school years.
"So far we have raised $19,000 from the three avenues we have -- from institutions, from individuals and through our web site which is selling tickets to the June 9th event," said Ross Wishnick of the Princeton Human Services Commission. "It has been amazing and a testament to the fact that people realize this is such a basic need."
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