Program gives summer lunches to kids in need

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What if Lansing schoolkids on the free or reduced lunch program during the school year were to get similar help during their summer vacations?

And what if the money used to buy those breakfasts and lunches for those hungry kids went to the Lansing Food Bank to buy more food for the community at large?

It all fits like the last piece of the puzzle, but if you ask Susan Tabrizi and Linda Pasto, there are a lot of moving parts to bringing free nutritious breakfasts and lunches to more than 90 Lansing kids this summer.

“Lansing Summer Lunchbox” will provide school students and their siblings monthly boxes of non-perishable food items like cereal, juice, pancake mix, canned tuna and chicken, soup, pasta, rice and beans, snacks and fresh fruit. It runs in tandem with Pasto’s “campership program,” which provides scholarships to the town’s day camps in Myers Park.

Tabrizi became aware of the problem of summer hunger when she and her family began volunteering at the Lansing Food Pantry.

“Talking with the folks there and in our community, we realized that there was a real need right here in our community,” Tabrizi said.

Tabrizi met Nancy Myers at the Lansing Food Pantry and talked with several stakeholders, including R.C. Buckley Elementary School Principal Lorri Whiteman, Lansing Central School District Board of Education member Linda Pasto, Lansing Food Pantry Director Toni Adams and Lansing Public Library Director Susie Gutenberger.

“We came together to see what more we could do for the kids in school,” Tabrizi said. “As a school board member, I wondered what happens during the summer months for the kids on the free or reduced lunch program.”

Pasto secured funds from the Triad Foundation for the program, Tabrizi said.

“These students in need over the summer – there was an opportunity here,” Tabrizi said.

Pasto said that between 25% and 30% of Lansing students are on the lunch programs.

“Hot meal” and similar summer programs require 50%.

“We couldn’t access the programs already in place,” Tabrizi said. “But this gave us the freedom to design things so that they work for us. We came up with the idea of providing staples in a food box for breakfast and lunch for the kids who may be missing those meals.”

Tabrizi said with the funds Pasto secured, they purchased food from the Food Bank to repack into monthly packs for kids, each with breakfast and lunch for 20 days. They also work closely with the food bank to maximize their dollars, such as including oranges in the first pack.

“There will be more things in season when we do the second box - more options,” Pasto said. “And we will have a better idea of what people want and need.”

Running their own program meant writing their own guidelines, Pasto said.

“Someone $30 over the limit is just as needy as someone just under the limit,” Pasto said. “With our funding, if we feel there is a need, they can come. We leave it to the schools to determine how needy someone is.”

Pasto and Tabrizi want Lansing to know just how many pieces came together to make this program happen. Lansing Market provided the boxes and has offered more, Andy and Rosemary Sciarabba at The Rink provided free space to store the materials and pack the food boxes, and Toni Adams at the Lansing Food Pantry provided guidance and worked with the Southern Tier Food Bank.

In addition, Gutenberger offered the distribution site, Cayuga Lake Seido Karate’s Robin McColley and Gail Lajoie will have their 30 students packing the boxes, Whiteman and elementary school Superintendent Chris Pettograsso made connections, and the Parent-Teacher Student Organization is the overarching nonprofit providing an official framework.

“The school’s social workers are the front-line workers for the project – Megan Hildreth, Melanie Towner, and Amber Alberta,” Tabrizi said. “Amy Frith, professor in public health at Ithaca College, was a big help in guiding the construction of the program to protect privacy. She will help with program analysis.”

Shante’ Tranchant of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier helped with programming and outreach, Tabrizi said.

“At 30%, we are talking about roughly 1 in 3 kids need help,” Tabrizi said. “The kid who sits next to my kid should not be hungry.”

You can offer your support for the Lansing Summer Lunchbox by emailing lansingsummerlunchbox@gmail.com. To donate, make checks out to the Lansing PTSO with “Summer Lunchbox” in the memo line.

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