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Pilot program in works to distribute weekend bags of food to Saugus elementary school students in need

 brownbag

 

By Mike Gaffney, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. June 12, 2018

 

A grassroots effort is underway to provide weekend bags of food to needy Saugus elementary school students starting in September. Representatives from the Saugus Public Schools, the Saugus faith community and the Saugus United Parish Food Pantry have met several times to plan the launch of food take-home program to serve the needs of town elementary school students. The group is calling the initiative “Healthy Students, Healthy Saugus.”

 

In April, Saugus United Parish Food Pantry volunteer Dennis Gould reached out to school officials with the idea of organizing weekend food care for students in the Saugus Public Schools.

 

Concerned about the number of students attending Saugus Public Schools who are homeless or living in poverty, Gould proposed forming an organization to address the food needs for these youths on weekends.

 

Gould’s vision was to bring local businesses, the Saugus Public Schools and the food pantry together to distribute bags of food to students who might need more sustenance for the weekends.

 

A group of about a dozen volunteers met on June 6 to discuss how to pilot the food bag program in time for the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

 

Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi Jr. said 47.3 percent of elementary school students in Saugus are categorized as low-income, which means they receive free or reduced price breakfasts and lunches while attending the Saugus Public Schools.

 

Food-insecure households are a reality in the Town of Saugus, DeRuosi said. Many families are living paycheck-to-paycheck and one setback away from financial calamity, he added.

 

“When you look at the numbers its clear there is a problem,” DeRuosi said. “I think this program is a great idea. It’s time for the community to come together and wrap our arms around this.”

 

Saugus Rotary Club President Tom Carroll was taken aback to learn about the prevalence of food-insecure homes in town.

 

“We need to make people aware of this,” Carroll said. “I think a lot of people would do more to try to help if they knew the extent of the problem.”

 

Much of the June 6 meeting focused on the logistics of getting the weekend food program for Saugus Public Schools students up-and-running.

 

An initial goal has been set of getting food bags to about 50 elementary school families this fall, DeRuosi said. He envisions maybe helping 10 to 15 families per elementary school in the district and hopefully expanding the program in the future.

Figuring out what to put in the food bags was a hot topic. Jamie Osgood of Whitsons Culinary Group — the school district’s food service provider — will look into what nutritionally should go into the bags of food and report back.

 

Other items the group talked about included what to use for food bags, where to get the food from, how to assemble the food, where students or families should pick the food up, and the importance of securing financial support from local businesses to help make the endeavor a success.

 

DeRuosi asserted that the weekend food bag program would become a true community movement if more businesses sign on. Gould noted that he has been meeting with local businesses to round up support for the cause.

Gould suggested subcommittees be established to tackle the issues that still need to be worked out.

For only meeting a handful of times, DeRuosi said the volunteer group has come a long way in a short amount of time toward achieving the objective of implementing a weekend bags of food program for students in need.

“This all started with an idea and now we have a skeleton,” DeRuosi said. “It’s looking good.”

 

The Rev. Martha Leahy of First Congregational Church UCC said that “Healthy Kids, Healthy Saugus” offers a way to support students that really need the help.

 

“The fact is that kids are hungry,” Leahy said. “What more do we need to know?”

 

Anyone looking to make a donation to “Healthy Students, Healthy Saugus” can make a check out to the Saugus Clergy Association (food drive) and mail it to First Congregational Church UCC, 300 Central St., Saugus MA 01906.

 

Businesses interested in being a part of the weekend food bags for students effort can call Gould at 617-257-4847.

 

For any Saugus residents that need food assistance, the Saugus United Parish Food Pantry is open from 9:30-11 a.m. every Friday at the Cliftondale Congregational Church, 50 Essex St., Saugus.