Volunteers fill the weekend meal gap for ConVal studentsBy MEGHAN PIERCE
Union Leader Correspondent
October 04. 2017 10:11PM
PETERBOROUGH — The ConVal School District chapter of End 68 Hours of Hunger is nearing its first anniversary.
The program was designed to feed schoolchildren who qualify for free or reduced school lunch on weekends and students receiving services in the ConVal School District from Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Temple and Sharon.
“There’s no reason for our children to be hungry for 68 hours,” said Anne Staley. “From Friday, free or reduced lunch, to Monday, free or reduced breakfast.”
Staley was a teacher in the ConVal School District for 25 years. She said was aware of the issue when she was a teacher, which is why in her retirement she now volunteers for the chapter that began feeding hungry children in the school district on Nov. 4.
“We knew we had hungry children, a ton, and we knew when they came back on Monday morning that they had been hungry. And we knew over the holidays that — a Christmas holiday or a February vacation was not all good — they might not have had food. They might not have had structure because mom and dad had to continue working.”
Every week during the school district volunteers from area churches and one hair salon — Trends of Fashion in Antrim — take turns bagging donated food items.
By the end of last year the volunteers were packing 104 bags; this fall, they’re putting together 141.
Last week, women from the Union Congregational Church of Peterborough were bagging up the weekend food for students, which this week included a box of cereal, a plastic jar of peanut butter, cans of soup and ravioli, instant rice, granola bars, crackers, plastic fruit cups and a small pack of Oreos.
Volunteer Judy DeWitt of Dublin said it typically took two hours last year to pack the bags, so she’s anticipating a three-hour packing job this fall.
“We have kindergartners taking this home through high schoolers,” Staley said. “So there’s a lot of thought — so we’re not going to send anything with glass.”
What goes in the bags varies, but they aim for 3,000 calories, and they try to add a treat like Oreos.
“It’s three dinners, two lunches, two breakfasts,” said one of the program coordinators, Linda Caracappa. “They get the last free meal on Friday afternoon at school, and then they get free breakfast Monday so this is the meals, 68 hours of meals, that are not given to them.”
The food has to be non-perishable, as well as easy to prepare and eat because, in some cases, children are home alone or homeless, Caracappa said.
“We don’t provide bread or any perishables,” she said. “If we get a big thing of apples we might give those out, but we can’t really store those kind of things.”
The ConVal chapter is 100 percent staffed by volunteers and has partnered with the school district’s SAU, #1, which donates a storage room and space for packing.
The volunteers pack on Wednesdays and another team of volunteers deliver the bags to the school on Thursdays. Then on Fridays the schools pass the bags to the students in a discreet way.
“Everybody does it a little bit differently,” Staley said.
Some schools will have a teacher place the bag in a student’s locker during recess when the whole grade is outside, Staley said.
“And we don’t know the children,” Caracappa said. “We always say our job ends at the door. … And the schools take over from there. We’re not going into the schools. We have no names.”
You can learn more about the program at www.end68hoursofhunger.org.