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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Every Schenectady Elementary School Now Equipped with Food Pantries


SCHENECTADY‍ —‌ The Schenectady City School District has taken⁢ a significant step towards ​addressing food insecurity by equipping⁢ all elementary schools with food‍ pantries. These pantries⁣ are designed to ‍provide ​a more equitable solution to the persistent problem of ‍food access⁣ in the district.

The ⁤food ⁤pantries are an extension of the district’s weekend ​backpack program, which⁣ has been providing‌ weekend meals ⁣to hundreds of elementary students⁤ for several years. ‍However, the program was limited in its scope,⁢ as it ​only catered to ⁢individual students​ and not their families ‌who might also be⁣ facing food insecurity, explains Kayla Ambesi, the district’s supervisor ‍of community⁢ schools.

“The previous ‌program did not consider the needs of a high school sibling,‍ a non-school-aged sibling, or the student’s caregivers,”​ Ambesi⁣ pointed out⁣ during a gathering at⁢ Keane Elementary School.

With the new program, families⁤ in the district can access the food pantries as frequently‌ as required. This allows caregivers to choose the items they⁣ need, rather than receiving pre-selected commodities‌ that ‍may not meet⁣ their specific needs, Ambesi added.

The district had previously ‍established food pantries at its high‌ school and Mont Pleasant Middle School.

The food pantries at the⁤ district’s 11 elementary schools​ were launched in October ‍and have seen a steady increase in usage. The⁢ school-based pantries have served 180% more students than the previous backpack⁣ model,​ reaching⁢ an additional 227 adults, ‌according⁢ to district data.

Ambesi anticipates these numbers to rise ‌as more people become aware of the‍ program.

“Our primary goal is to ensure that families have ⁤sufficient food ‌to feed their⁢ children ‍and themselves, ⁤contributing to the overall success of everyone,”⁣ she emphasized.

The food pantries‍ are part of ‌the district’s community schools initiative that was launched in 2022. The initiative aims to ⁤strengthen relationships with community stakeholders ⁣and transform school buildings‍ into community‍ centers.

Several community‍ organizations, including MVP Health Care, Broadview Federal Credit Union, the Schenectady Foundation, United Way, Justice for Orphans,⁢ and Liberty Church, have contributed to​ funding and stocking the pantries.

The Regional ​Food Bank of ‍Northeastern New York supplies food for the pantries, which ⁢are managed by Schenectady Community Ministries,⁣ the largest food pantry ⁣in Schenectady‍ County.

“I⁢ am a firm believer in the power of‌ community collaboration. By working together with our stakeholders, we can ‌achieve‍ anything,”‌ said Carlo⁤ Cotto, assistant ⁢superintendent ‌for innovation,‍ equity & engagement. “Unity within our​ community⁣ is the key to ⁣tackling the challenges‍ we face, and together we can make a difference.”

The district ⁣collaborated ⁢with SiCM ‍to launch a ⁢mobile food pantry at ⁣Dr. ‍Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in 2022. This initiative ‌accounted for ​1,586 visits, or an average‍ of 71,000 meals, according to Amaury Tañón-Santos, the organization’s executive director.

In 2023, ⁤the ‌program expanded ‌to ‍eight elementary schools and saw a 111% increase in visits, representing 155,255 ⁤meals.

Tañón-Santos believes that the ⁣expanded pantry​ program is a community-based solution to a longstanding problem.

Last school ⁢year, 6,798⁢ students were classified as “economically disadvantaged,” representing 79% of the student population, according to data ⁣from the state’s Education Department.

A recent study by the nonprofit ‌No Kid Hungry revealed that food insecurity can adversely affect academic ⁢performance and lead ​to ⁢behavioral and concentration⁣ issues.

“Food, health, and education are interconnected,” Tañón-Santos stated. “Our children should never have to worry⁢ about ​going hungry.”

At Keane Elementary, ⁣the pantry ‍is stocked with a variety‌ of items,⁣ ranging from canned ‌soup​ and pudding cups to toilet paper and⁢ shampoo.

Ambesi mentioned that the district keeps track of each item to ‌know what ​needs to be reordered. However, families can‍ also‌ request specific items. If the district cannot provide an‌ item,⁣ it collaborates with ⁣community partners to assist the‌ family.

“We are committed to‌ responding to the needs and ⁤wants of our ​families,” Ambesi⁣ said.

Ambesi hopes to establish pantries in all district schools in the coming months and‍ is planning to ⁢launch a community health initiative to expand medical access for families in need.

She also noted that any family with a student in the ‍district can access⁣ the pantries.

Betsy Dickson, senior director of children’s programs for the Regional Food Bank, praised the new pantries for bringing ‍essential services directly to students and their families. She​ noted that the familiar ​school environment helps⁢ to eliminate the‌ stigma often⁤ associated with visiting a food‌ pantry.

“This initiative‌ is all about meeting children where⁢ they are, acknowledging their diverse backgrounds, and ensuring they have what they ‌need⁣ to grow and thrive,” Dickson ‍said.

Juniper Li
Juniper Li
Juniper Li, with her roots in documentary filmmaking, brings a unique narrative style to local news reporting. A graduate of NYU’s Journalism program, Ava has a keen eye for stories that capture the essence of community life. Her reporting often highlights local achievements and challenges, drawing on her experience in visual storytelling.
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