MIDDLETOWN—Lions Club members, working with employees at Balchem Corporation and the food pantry at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, volunteer every Thursday during the school year to fill backpacks for their No Kid Hungry project.
Glynnis Foglia coordinates the program to fill 60 backpacks for food insecure students at three Middletown elementary schools. A counter at the food pantry is filled with over 19 food items for breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday for students.
Foglia says the backpacks have items that are nutritious and that the children will like. Children can open and prepare the food themselves if no adult is available to help them at home. “They can microwave if they have to. This is something they can handle on their own.”
The volunteers take a backpack and start with main course items—tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and a wide assortment of sweet and savory crackers. White and chocolate milk, packets of hot chocolate, and juices are the drinks provided.
For desert or snacks, the backpacks are filled with pastry crisps, granola bars, cookies, and either an apple or orange. “The fresh fruit is one of the things that we are told these children love and don’t have at home,” Foglia said.
Millie Rivera-Velez says that she keeps a room at the pantry for individual-sized food for the backpacks. “Anything that comes in an individual size, I give that to them.”
Six volunteers pack the food items in a half hour, then they are shipped directly to the schools. Foglia said the packs may be given out either on Thursday or Friday before the weekend.
Former president of the Middletown Lions Club, Andrew Higgins asked employees of Balchem Corporation to help and received an overwhelming response. “We put a letter out to everybody and I was floored when I picked it up the other day how much was amassed, especially this time of the year.”
In the backpacks assembled on Dec. 3, Balchem employees donated 1,850 individual food items—”90 percent of what you see here is from a donation,” Foglia said.
Without the generous donation, the Middletown Lions would have the cover the cost, which averages about eight dollars a backpack. “Because of their donation, the backpack this week might be $2.50 each,” Foglia said. She said at Christmas, the children receive special treats for the weekend.
Bill Shembeda, district governor for a six-county region in the Hudson Valley, said the program was a “confluence of events.” A news story seven years ago said a large number of children received free breakfasts and lunches in Middletown. A Lions Club member who also taught in Middletown said teachers saved food at their desks to give children for the weekend.
“The need is out there and as a Lions Club we should share what we do.” They did and Shembeda said other clubs are considering a similar effort.
Clifford Youngs said having not enough food to eat affects everything else for a child. “We need to get nutrition in their bodies, so that they don’t have other problems.”
Higgins, who manages the facility in Slate Hill, says Balchem has plants all over the country. The company makes ingredients for food products as well as animal nutrition and health products. “We make a lot of the products that you eat last longer and taste better.”
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