Good Food

Several recent grants support programs based on a simple principle: no one should go hungry.

Photo of volunteers loading food on a pallet for delivery
Broome-Tioga BOCES Summer Food Service and Lunchbox program volunteers repackage and deliver food to families, helping to close the gap between resources and need.

Too many people lack reliable access to nutritious food. Luckily, many community groups are working hard to meet this essential need. 

Take the Unatego Central School District’s backpack program, which gives students in need healthy food to take home. The goal is to help families get through the weekends, when kids don’t get meals at school. In 2019, the Community Foundation provided $9,150 to help support that program for two years. 

Many families in the program live paycheck to paycheck, earning too much to qualify for government assistance but not enough to keep their kitchens stocked. “The backpack program takes some of the stress off these families,” says Michele Wilson, backpack program coordinator at Unatego Central School District. 

As a fifth grade teacher, Wilson knows that children who are hungry struggle to succeed in the classroom and beyond. “Having this program in place ensures that every student has an even playing field,” she says.

In Tioga County, Broome-Tioga BOCES has extended the backpack concept into the summer, packaging food at five sites and making home deliveries to families that need extra help. This Summer Lunchbox initiative complements the government-supported Summer Food Service Program, which serves meals at locations throughout the community. 

An estimated 2,000 children in Tioga County are food-insecure, says Nancy Eckstrom, who collaborates with local schools on summer nutrition programming. The Lunchbox program relies on volunteers in each community to repackage and deliver food that BOCES buys in bulk. A $15,000 Community Foundation grant paid for much of that food in 2019. 

With kids home from school, families often see food costs rise in the summer, Eckstrom says. The Summer Food Service and Lunchbox programs help to close the gap between resources and need. “Families are telling me this makes a big difference to them,” she says. 

Mother Teresa’s Cupboard, a food pantry in Endicott run by Catholic Charities of Broome County, helps 1,100 to 1,200 people a month with food and other essential items, plus emergency financial assistance. A $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation has helped the pantry pay for food and for personal items such as baby diapers, feminine hygiene products and toilet paper. 

“Can you imagine having to ask for those things?” asks Mary Roma, emergency service coordinator at Mother Teresa’s Cupboard. In the past, the pantry could stock personal products only when they came in as donations. The Foundation’s grant puts those items on the shelf as a matter of course, proving to visitors that they needn’t be ashamed to ask for them. “It gives people a sense of decency, that this is part of the deal,” Roma says. 

An innovative pantry based at Sidney Primary Care, a satellite office of Oneonta’s A.O. Fox Hospital, received a $5,000 Community Foundation grant to purchase food. Called the Food Farmacy, this pantry helps people with chronic medical conditions who are food-insecure, are on Medicaid or under-insured and have committed to making healthy lifestyle changes. A.O. Fox Hospital launched the Food Farmacy as a pilot program in January 2020, with plans to enroll 20 people.

Many patients in the A.O. Fox emergency department face underlying issues, such as homelessness, substance abuse disorder or food insecurity, that exacerbate their chronic illnesses, says Sarah Buttice, director of education and employee wellness at A.O. Fox Hospital in Oneonta. Now, for some of those patients, primary care providers can “prescribe” visits to the Food Farmacy to pick up healthy perishable and non-perishable foods. 

Buttice says she hopes that access to healthy food will help to alleviate certain chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. “I also hope it will decrease food insecurity by way of increasing education and awareness. And, hopefully, it will decrease emergency department visits, and provide better patient and primary care provider engagement.” 

Residents of Binghamton’s North Side will soon gain convenient access to a large range of healthy foods, as the Broome County Council of Churches (BCCC) opens a full-service discount grocery store in that neighborhood. 

“The community is incredibly excited. They’ve been without a full-service grocery store for 23 years,” says Jack Seman, director of BCCC’s Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) program and lead manager at the new store, which is scheduled to open in July 2020. Merchandise for sale will include fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products at affordable prices.

The Community Foundation facilitated the group that planned and developed the new North Side grocery and funded the project with a $20,000 operating grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Fund. The grocery has also received support from the City of Binghamton, New York State, United Way and several other foundations. 

It’s heartening to see so many people pull together to make sure our neighbors have steady access to the nourishing food we all need to lead healthy, happy lives.

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