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Hudson Elementary fills need for food on weekends

Hudson Rotary president Debby Jenkins, left, and Rotarian William “Bill” Spicuglia help Hudson Elementary School parent involvement assistant Mary Whitehead unload and sort food the organization donated to the school. Enough food for six meals for children and families in need is packed into backpacks and sent home with kids each Friday.

MICHELE MILLER | Times

Hudson Rotary president Debby Jenkins, left, and Rotarian William “Bill” Spicuglia help Hudson Elementary School parent involvement assistant Mary Whitehead unload and sort food the organization donated to the school. Enough food for six meals for children and families in need is packed into backpacks and sent home with kids each Friday.

When Mary Whitehead first took the job as parent involvement assistant at Hudson Elementary School, she figured she would be providing educational materials and organizing the usual kind of workshops and activities that help parents foster student success.

Turns out the position came with a few more hats.

"I learned pretty quickly there was more that was needed here," said Whitehead, who also serves as the school's volunteer coordinator and oversees the Assist Believe and Care program that helps provide food, holiday gifts and school supplies for students and families in need.

That can be a tall order at the Title 1 school where 81 percent of the students qualify for the federally funded free and reduced-price meals program; where too many kids these days seem to be catching the school bus at a homeless shelter or a week-to-week motel.

Even so, never did Whitehead think she'd be running a makeshift food pantry out of a school workroom.

But growling tummies in the classroom are a very valid concern.

"If you have hungry children they're not going to learn as well, and you're going to have more behavior problems," Whitehead said. "The bottom line is that some of these kids get dinner and some of them don't."

Then there were the weekends to contend with.

"I had parents coming to me and telling me they weren't making it from paycheck to paycheck or that there was no paycheck and that their food stamps weren't stretching far enough," she said. "I'd ask them, 'What can we do to make things better for you? What do you need?' and they'd tell me, 'food.' "

Another tall order that had Whitehood steering parents to outside service organizations and planting the seeds for some kind of on-site assistance at the school.

The idea? To start a program that each Friday provides students with a blue backpack filled with enough food to get their families through the weekend. Then they would bring the empty backpack to school on Monday.

Good idea, but a tough one to facilitate on your own.

Enter the community.

Members of the Hudson Rotary Club District 6950 said they wanted in after hearing a representative from Second Harvest speak about the problem of domestic hunger and the need for more local food pantries.

"Feeding the poor, providing potable water, promoting literacy and fighting polio — those are the kinds of thing we do," said Rotarian Joe Stagliano, 60.

"We asked her what we could do," said Rotarian William "Bill" Spicuglia, 65. "She told us to contact the school."

They did, and Spicuglia opened his wallet on the spot, donating $1,000 to start a food pantry. Other members pitched in too, offering up a total of about $5,500.

At the request of Whitehead, the Rotary Club also applied for and received a $1,000 Feeding Hunger Grant from Walmart in Hudson. Whitehead also applied for the grant on behalf of the school, adding another $1,000 to the pot and the total of $12,000 that Walmart has donated over the past year to some 45 organizations in the community.

Other local organizations such as the Compassion Group, Our Father's House of Odessa, St. Martin's Episcopal Church and Weight Watchers also came on board to donate food.

The school's Blue Bag Program has been up and running since the start of the school year, providing two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners to some 27 families. Each week Rotarian members take turns shopping for food and delivering it to the school. There, it is sorted and packed in the blue backpacks and delivered to children to take home. Nothing fancy, mind you. Things like breakfast cereal and fruit cups, macaroni and cheese, pasta and spaghetti sauce that could be stretched into two meals for those in a pinch.

It might not seem like a heck of a lot, but to a family that's struggling, it's a way to get through the weekend.

>>how to help

Organizations that donate

Aside from organizations that donate to the school food pantry, Hudson Elementary depends largely on the community to help with various school programs. "Without the help of the community, a lot of our kids would go without," parent involvement assistant Mary Whitehead said.

Others who have stepped up include the Fraternal Order of Eagles and Eagle Riders Aerie 4208, Hudson Water Works, Murphy's Deli, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, Three Lakes RV Resort Sunday church, Summertree Ladies Golf League, the women of Faith United Methodist, Beacon Woods East activities, Beacon Woods East Recreation Association and Beacons Woods East Master Association.

Hudson Elementary fills need for food on weekends 12/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 8:55pm]
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