By Linnet Tse
“It’s good to help people so that they can have food. Even though we’re in COVID-19, we’re staying safe and also helping our community, ” 9-year old Ellie Carr shared. Ellie is one of the youngest of the dozens of volunteers who, along with her mother Trisha Patterson, have stepped up to help with a very special food initiative aimed at providing food to the Mamaroneck School District students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch since the schools closed on March 13.
As Rev. Lisa Mason, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Larchmont tells it, this food initiative was a result of St. John’s families such as Ellie’s looking for more “boots on the ground” outreach opportunities. Rev. Lisa and a few parishioners met with the Mamaroneck Public Schools’ social workers in late February to explore ways to help. Little did she know that just two weeks later, her help would be called upon in a major way. When the social workers learned that school would be closing with just a few days’ notice, they immediately reached out to Rev. Lisa. They were concerned that the nearly 1,000 District students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and depend on those breakfasts and lunches for a large portion of their nutritional needs, would be left hungry. At that point, no funding had been approved or plans put in place to continue providing the students with meals while school was closed.
Without thinking twice, Rev. Lisa quickly committed to doing whatever it was needed to ensure that the children’s needs were met. With help from Rev. Carol Gadsden from St. Thomas Episcopal Church and Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman from Larchmont Temple, a team was assembled. Fast forward to August. By the end of the August, nearly 10,000 supplemental bags of food will have been provided to students eligible for free and reduced lunch since the program’s inception in late March.
While government funding has enabled Aramark Education, the Mamaroneck School District’s food service provider, to continue providing limited breakfast and lunch packs to eligible students, the provisions have been limited to the basics, substantially less than students had been receiving while school was in session. The supplemental food bags, distributed twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, focus on high protein and healthy items to supplement the breakfast and lunch bags passed out daily. Bags include items like tuna fish, protein bars, peanut butter, fruit packs and fresh fruit.
Participating houses of worship include St. John’s Episcopal Church, Larchmont Temple, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Larchmont Avenue Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, and the First Methodist Church.
To date, $93,000 has been raised from a combination of the houses of worship outreach funds, donations from members of those congregations, the community at large, and a few foundations. Food is ordered through US Foods, a foodservice provider. A couple dozen masked and gloved volunteers gather at St. John’s spacious parish hall every two weeks when the food arrives, to unpack the cases of food and pack the 750-1,000 bags. Another crew of volunteers delivers 200-250 bags to the distribution point(s) on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, where the bags are given out along with Aramark’s breakfast and lunch packets. (The summer distribution point has been Mamaroneck Avenue School.)
There have been added surprises of generosity along the way, too. Fran Mannix from Children’s Creative Corner in Larchmont, raised funds to provide generous art bags for each student. A rep from GoGo squeeZ yogurtZ donated 700 boxes of four individual serve packets, and there have been donations of Spanish and English books and other items as well.
Providing Food, Building Community: As Rev. Lisa reflects on her experience, she shares that beyond the goal of providing food accessibility to the children, she soon realized something else important was happening . . . “as the houses of worship came together and the community at large joined in, new relationships were being formed through a shared desired outcome. People need to know they matter and that they can make a difference; this community has always been generous and resourceful, but it has reached a deeper understanding of what it means to truly be a community that makes a difference by working together in relationship.”
If schools reopen, Aramark Education will be able to resume fully serving eligible students. However, with school reopening plans still to be finalized, Rev. Lisa and her colleagues are standing by ready to continue helping as needed.
For more information or to get involved with this food ministry initiative, contact Rev. Lisa Mason at St. John’s Episcopal Church via email (RevLisa@stjohnslarchmont.org) or phone: 914-834-2981.