By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Nearly 50 percent of students in Shikellamy schools in 2012 were enrolled in a free or reduced-price lunch program, according to the state Department of Education, and that number concerned district officials.
In January of that year, school administrators noticed some students were not concentrating and leaders wondered whether a lack of food was to partly to blame.
That’s was led parents, a school nurse and Brett Misavage, Chief Shikellamy Elementary principal, to form Caring for Kids, which supplements the nutritional needs of students and their siblings by sending home bags of nonperishable food that is easy for children to prepare on their own.
Chief Shikellamy in 2012, with an enrollment of 375, had a 75 percent participation rate in free or reduced-price lunches.
First batch: Four lunches
Jolene Dressler, program coordinator and district nurse, began to speak about trying to help feed students on weekends. In February 2012, four students received a boxed lunch to take home. By June, that number grew to 65.
As of Friday, 212 lunches were packed and ready for needy students to take home for the weekend.
Bags include two cereals and two oatmeal packages for breakfast, and two cans of Chef Boyardee products with two snacks for lunch, Dressler said. Snacks include canned fruits and granola bars.
Everything purchased has nutritional value, Dressler said, but that doesn’t mean that any food donated to the program would be rejected.
ConAgra Foods, of Milton, which supplies the Chef Boyardee products, has been a huge help to Caring for Kids, Dressler said.
“They have helped us so much,” she said. “They keep supplying us.”
Caring for Kids has become a nonprofit entity by joining with A Community Clinic, of Sunbury. This allowed the group to seek and receive several grants, from the Degenstein, Moyer and Guyer trusts, and from the Sunbury Area Community Foundation Health fund.
“We need all the help we can get,” Dressler said. “Especially donations. We need money. We can buy the food through the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, in Williamsport, and a lot of times depending on what we are getting, it won’t cost us.”
Brothers, sisters eat
Caring for Kids not only feeds students at Chief Shikellamy, but also their brothers and sisters, Dressler said.
“We are sending home packages for them as well,” she said. “We are getting ready to open this up to all the other elementary schools by the end of December.”
In two months, pupils at Oaklyn, Beck and Priestley elementary schools will be receiving the weekend lunches.
“That’s our plan,” Dressler said. “And then beginning the start of the new year, we want to be able to help the middle school and high school students.”
Beck Elementary in 2012 was at nearly 70 percent for free or reduced-price lunches, while Priestley was at 40 percent and Oaklyn at 29 percent.
The district as a whole in 2013 is at 47 percent eligible for the state’s free or reduced-price lunches.
For now, Dressler and her group need all the help they can get.
“We will take anything,” she said. “If people are going to do food drives, all we ask is for people to try and get us food that kids can prepare. But we will take whatever people will donate and I want people to know that this is just not about the free or reduced lunches students receive. This is also about the parents that are out working and are struggling as well. They need help as well.”