Food brings people together. Whether it’s preparing food, sharing a meal or providing for others, community is built around traditions of food.
That’s what’s happening at The Bounty, a new school food pantry pilot program at Broome-Tioga BOCES East Learning Center in Binghamton. The Food Bank received a $25,000 grant from Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation through Feeding America to establish the pantry and promote emergency food services to multigenerational families.
More than 300 students and family members receive food each month. Families fill out an order form so they have enough canned vegetables and fruits, proteins and dairy, grains and other items to supplement their diet for a week. The order method helps the pantry provide the foods families want without distributing items they don’t need. And it empowers families to make their own nutritional choices.
Fred Fraley, Jr., of Binghamton, uses the school pantry to provide for his 14-year-old nephew, a student at the school. Fred is also caring for his mother who has cancer. Fred is disabled himself and, since he is not the boy’s legal guardian, receives no benefits for his nephew.
“I have only social security and disability (benefits), and no food stamps, so money gets short real quick,” Fred says. “The school pantry is a big relief. It’s just now that it’s getting to where I can say, ‘Hey, we have a little extra food.’”
The Bounty is also nurturing a sense of community. As a BOCES campus, East Learning Center educates students from 14 different districts. That can make it challenging for students and their families to develop a feeling of belonging and connection.
Since The Bounty opened in November 2017, school staff have created a monthly outreach newsletter that keeps families informed of East’s programs. They now host monthly family gatherings and bring in speakers. Staff have also organized a free clothing and toiletries closet called the Treasure Chest. In addition, students are gaining valuable career experience by filling orders, packing food and delivering to students and families.
Principal Chuck Wheeler says, “If it was just school staff and Food Bank staff working together, that would be a great thing in and of itself. But we’re getting all the kids working as well as creating a sense of community here. They gain an understanding that they’re doing something for the good of people.”
Thomas, a 14-year-old student volunteer, takes pride in being known as one of the most efficient pantry workers.
“I’ve struggled before in my life, you know,” Thomas says. “I’ve had nothing to eat sometimes. It’s honestly a really good thing to be able to help people out and feed them, and make sure that their stomachs are full and that they’re not going hungry.”
The Bounty has far exceeded the Food Bank’s expectations, says Jennifer Edger, Director of Community Programs.
“It’s become so much more than food,” Jennifer says. “The school is reaching out to families in ways they haven’t been able to before. And the families’ feeling of safety and security at the school is growing. It’s beyond what we could have ever imagined.”
The Food Bank is striving to feed these collaborative partnerships and develop school food pantries throughout the Southern Tier. You can help at www.foodbankst.org/give-a-gift