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Donations from Bon Air students help kids get through weekend

| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 12:21 a.m.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
Bon Air Elementary School student Ian Quinn and other students pack up donated food on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. The Burrell kids collected nonperishable food and money for Project SEED, a pilot initiative to ensure students at New Kensington-Arnold's Fort Crawford Elementary School have enough food to eat on the weekends.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
Bon Air Elementary School students display donated food on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. The Burrell kids collected nonperishable food and money for Project SEED, a pilot initiative to ensure students at New Kensington-Arnold's Fort Crawford Elementary School have enough food to eat on the weekends. Pictured are: front row, from left: Laurel Thomm, Hailey Brockett, Ashton Selinger and Haylee Heasley; second row: Ian Quinn, Riley Sterlitz, Leah Capsambelis and Mathias Bernard; rear, Project SEED coordinator Joanne Cecchi, Bon Air Principal Amy Lenart and Project SEED coordinator Ruth Carson.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
Bon Air Elementary School students display donated food on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. The Burrell kids collected nonperishable food and money for Project SEED, a pilot initiative to ensure students at New Kensington-Arnold's Fort Crawford Elementary School have enough food to eat on the weekends. Pictured are: front row, from left: Laurel Thomm, Hailey Brockett, Ashton Selinger and Haylee Heasley; second row: Ian Quinn, Riley Sterlitz, Leah Capsambelis and Mathias Bernard.

When Burrell Principal Amy Lenart learned of a local project to ensure children didn't go hungry on weekends, she thought it would be a perfect community service project for her elementary students.

Even if they were in a different school district.

“What's better than kids helping kids?” asked Lenart.

In three weeks, her Bon Air Elementary students raised $1,060 and donated enough nonperishable food to fill two dozen boxes for Project SEED. An acronym for Something to Eat Every Day, it's a pilot initiative in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

“This and a couple other huge donations in the last week put us over the top,” said Joanne Cecchi, a retired New Kensington-Arnold administrator who cofounded Project SEED last summer with Ruth Carson.

The women said they've now raised the $18,000 needed to send home a bag of food every weekend this school year for each of the 150-or-so Fort Crawford Elementary students who are participating.

That doesn't mean they can rest on their laurels until summer, though.

“We're already thinking of next year,” said Carson, also a retired New Ken-Arnold administrator.

They would like to expand the weekend food program beyond Fort Crawford, which was chosen for the pilot because of the high percentage of children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Cecchi said they have been approached by other school districts interested in starting similar programs.

Cecchi and Carson said they are very thankful for the donors and volunteers who have made the project work.

Cecchi said donations of all sizes have come from about 175 sources — individuals, businesses, nonprofits, churches, and school and youth groups such as Scouts and the Valley High School JROTC.

“It's coming from friends and neighbors,” she said.

“Our volunteers are outstanding,” Carson said, noting that helpers came to the Alle-Kiski Valley Adult Activity Center in New Kensington to pack the food even on cold, snowy days when the center was otherwise closed.

Cecchi said New Kensington donated the time and equipment for the city's public works department to pick up the food and deliver it to the school every Friday morning.

Teachers hand out the bags; Cecchi said extras usually are available that can be given to students who may have hungry siblings at home.

Each bag provides enough food for a child to have two breakfasts and two lunches. Provisions may include cereal bars, fruit cups and snacks, sandwich crackers and microwavable meals such as macaroni and cheese and soup.

As Cecchi and Carson picked up the boxes from Bon Air, she noted all the packages of macaroni and pasta: “They brought in things they know kids like to eat.”

Lenart said her students really seemed to enjoy the project, and not just because donors got to wear pajamas to school one day as a reward. She mentioned one kindergartner, Hailey Brockett, who emptied her piggy bank for the cause.

“That they're helping someone else — they get it,” Lenart said. “They absolutely get it.”

Liz Hayes is staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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