“The question,” remembers Chuck Wheeler, Executive Principal of East Learning Center in Binghamton, “was whether food support for whole families could take place in the school setting.” He’s got a radio in one hand, the sounds of school buzzing through his palm as the sun streams into the classroom. “When the Food Bank approached us with the opportunity to be their first School Food Center partner, we were certainly interested.” .
East Learning Center houses alternative education and treatment programs for adolescents; the food center was designed not only to meet nutrition needs but to fit into the curriculum of the skills-based learning program. High school students — a significant portion of whom have personally experienced hunger — now work together unloading dairy and organizing dry goods, taking great pride in the opportunity to support their community. There is enough food for all who need it, with stock replenished weekly by the Food Bank’s delivery team.
“These families in need are just like you and me,” Chuck adds. “It could be your neighbor who needs help; it could be your son or daughter; it could be any of our students. This program should be in every school.”
Since opening its food center doors in 2017, East Learning Center has served as a model for other schools committed to ending child hunger. A mile and a half from the Food Bank’s first School Food Center, our newest School Food Center at Benjamin Franklin Elementary is bustling to life. Decorations adorn doorways of Pre-K classrooms, boisterous voices of the littlest learners filling the hallways with hope. ”
“We had a very eye-opening experience,” Benjamin Franklin Principal Kyle Skinner explains of his food center’s origins. “Surveys revealed more help was needed than what the BackPack Program provides; half of our families have experienced food scarcity and 80% have felt concerned they could run out of food before they have funds to get more. Food scarcity is something very vulnerable for families, and we don’t take that vulnerability lightly. It can be really hard for people to ask for help, and we knew we had to act quickly to set up our food center. We need to make sure our students are taken care of and their families, too. We have to meet the families’ needs so the students can be here, happy and healthy every day.”
“School Food Centers are a really effective way for the Food Bank to meet community members where they are,” says Kathleen Pasetty, the Food Bank’s Programs & Partnerships Coordinator for Broome and Tompkins Counties. “This nutritional support is an important component of Benjamin Franklin’s Community Resource Center.”
Parents and caregivers can request that food be sent home with their students or access the Community Resource Center through a discreet entrance. There are exciting developments on the horizon, including delivery systems in partnership with Binghamton University, seminars about college financial aid, workshops on home ownership, job fairs, and parenting support.
“The phone calls we get from families that are in difficult positions and don’t know what to do, where to go, or where to turn — for us, to be able to say, ‘it’s okay, we can provide you with food and other resources to get you through the week,’ being able to fill that immediate void for families has been an incredible experience for our school,” Kyle says.