Food 2 Go 4 Kids provides Hempfield elementary students with weekend meals
Elementary schools across Hempfield Area School District are working with local churches to ensure qualifying students have hot meals to eat on weekends.
As part of the Food 2 Go 4 Kids program, school and church officials work together to purchase, package and disperse easy-to-make food for students, striving to provide packages each Friday. After the food is delivered to the schools, a group of teachers slips it into the backpacks when students are not watching.
“I’m getting chills right now because, without all of that, you wouldn’t have all of this,” said Heather Manhart, office manager at West Hempfield Presbyterian Church, referencing the work it takes to put the program together. “You have to have the support. It’s not just one person, it’s a village.”
West Hempfield Presbyterian Church works with West Hempfield ElementarybSchool to feed more than 70 students on the weekends. About 43% of students at the school qualify for free or reduced lunches, school counselor Jaimie Sebastianelli said. West Point, Stanwood and Fort Allen also offer the Food 2 Go 4 Kids program.
Working to continually decrease that number, which was at 51% three years ago when the program started, West Hempfield Presbyterian Church orders macaroni and cheese, apple sauce and Rice Krispies from Sam’s Club. Students at the school receive food every other week, Manhart said.
“We have such a high need in our building that we were kind of just looking for some way to give back and help these kids, especially on the weekends,” said Erin Castillo, intervention coordinator at the school.
Across the state, about 446,665 children 18 and younger were living in poverty in 2017, according census data. Of those, more than 34,340 were in Allegheny County and more than 8,060 were in Westmoreland County. In that same time, more than 9% of students in the Hempfield Area School District between the ages of 5 and 17 were living in poverty, or more than 550 students, the lowest since 2010.
At West Point, which started the program last year, students receive food every weekend with the help of Harrold Zion Lutheran Church. The church also provides food for Fort Allen, which started the program four years ago.
The Rev. John Smaligo with Harrold Zion Lutheran Church said students are able to receive food every week thanks to partnerships with Greensburg Central Catholic School District, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Our Lady of Grace and a group from Seton Hill University.
“I think the greatest part of this is the idea of the community working together,” Smaligo said. “It’s great to see the churches working together; it’s great to see us working in the community to meet the needs of the children within the community. … That’s very important to us. To be able to work with the schools has been wonderful.”
Sarah Taylor, a counselor at Stanwood, which is starting a program Friday, added, “The kids loved it, and the families were so appreciative. It’s awesome to feel that we’re giving something they need. … I love to offer families free stuff because I feel like it impacts how they perceive the school, and the kids are happy.”
Fundraisers are held throughout the year to help pay for food and to help increase the number of times students receive meals. West Point and West Hempfield recently held spaghetti dinner fundraisers. West Hempfield raised about $4,500, almost reaching their $5,000 goal needed for the rest of the school year.
Hempfield Area is not the only school district that offers the program.
Ligonier Valley School District has offered the program for several years because of a high number of students enrolled in the free breakfast and lunch program, according to the district’s website. The goal is to combat hunger so students are eager to learn come Monday.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .