GOSHEN—Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus and Social Services Commissioner Darcie Miller announced on Sept. 9 a partnership with Food Bank of the Hudson Valley to assist children in Orange County who do not have enough to eat over a weekend when not in school.
This new initiative, Orange Cares, is a two-year program for 22 schools in the county. The county has invested $375,000 in Orange Cares to jump-start the program. About 10 percent, or 38,230 residents, of the county does not have enough food. Orange Cares intends to help children who struggle in school because they need a nutritious start to the week.
“A lot of families in the county struggle to put food on the table and children suffer disproportionately from hunger. I’m proud to support the efforts of Orange Cares to help address hunger issues that are impacting some of the most vulnerable in our community,” Neuhaus said.
Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York said, “The intent of the backpack program is to provide a backpack full of food for kids to take home on weekends. They will get a mixture of foods.”
Orange Cares will start the School BackPack Program in the fall semester with five schools. In the 22 schools with a free and reduced lunch population of 50 percent, at least 40 children will benefit, for a total of 880 children.
Neuhaus said he saw extreme poverty during a military stint in Northern Africa and doesn’t want a repeat of that in America. “I come back to the most powerful country on the planet and we have one out of four of our kids going to bed hungry at night.”
Orange Cares is a way to get the community to participate, Quandt said. “We get it started, get it seeded, if you will, then have the community adopt the program and sustain it.”
Once the program is up and running, Neuhaus said he plans to see firsthand how the backpacks are put together.
Mark Quandt said Orange Cares is unique in the state. “I’m not aware of any other initiative like this from any other county executive of anywhere in the country, and not in New York state. This is something pretty unique and pretty special. A significant amount of money is dedicated to the project.” He intends it to be the model for getting businesses and nonprofits to help.
In Schnectady, Quandt said schools identified food insecure children by those who hoarded food or asked at the lunch counter if there was any leftover food. Children would ask teachers if they had any snacks. “The whole intent is to get kids through the weekend so that when they come back to school on Monday they are ready to function, ready to be kids,” he said.
Neuhaus will work with companies to participate in the program.
Quandt said the weekend backpacks will serve more than just the child. “It will serve the needs of other children in the family and possibly the parents also.” The packs will have breakfast items, easy-to-prepare entrees, some fresh produce, snacks, “a little bit of treat here and there,” and a loaf of bread. “We try to make it a nutritious backpack that will get the kids through the weekend.”
“The county recognizes the need to do more to combat hunger and we are pleased to support the funding of this initiative,” said Steve Brescia, chairman of the Orange County Legislature. “We are excited to see this program rolled out and are looking forward to it being a success.”
The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, located in Cornwall-on-Hudson, is a branch food bank of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
Quandt wants the weekend backpacks to help children to come to school ready to learn. “When they get back to school on Monday, kids are more ready to learn, more relaxed, more comfortable.”
Neuhaus said a balanced diet is important for children to grow and develop. “So many stresses are put on them when they have a lack of nutrition,” he said. “I’m proud that we are going to be filling this gap.”
To contact this reporter, email email@example.com.