Since last fall, the kids, teachers and staff at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside have been busy putting together a unique program to help their fellow students and families.
Through food drives and partnerships with Island Harvest and other community groups, they’ve stocked a storeroom off of their lunchroom with healthy meals and baby supplies, toothbrushes and toiletries, school snacks and emergency kits for families who are in the direst need.
Fourth grade teacher and literacy coach Jeanne-Marie Mazzaferro helped to spearhead the program after she noticed, while visiting classrooms throughout the school, that many of the students were asking for extra snacks from teachers and their friends.
“No child should be hungry, ever,” she said, adding that between 65 and 80 percent of the students in the district are eligible for free and reduced lunches, and Island Harvest already sends home 190 backpacks filled with food for the weekend to students in the district each Thursday.
“Those numbers have increased every year,” she said. “We’re a community and we need to support each other.”
While there are other food pantries in the Flanders and Riverside area, many just serve the congregations of local churches, said Ms. Mazzaferro. The school’s food pantry, she said, will provide a safe environment for parents, who know their students’ teachers, to come in and ask for help from their friends.
The senior community of John Wesley Village in Riverhead also donated large quantities of diapers, wipes and baby food for parents with young children at home.
The food pantry will be open on the second and fourth Thursday evening of every month from 6:30 to 8 p.m., beginning tonight. A table will be set up in the school lobby to accept donations during the school day. Full information on the program is available here.
During a ribbon-cutting assembly Thursday morning, Principal Debra Rodgers reminded the excited Kindergartners through fourth graders of the accomplishment they’d achieved.
“We want you to understand your responsibility to each other. That’s what today is about,” she said. “It’s about planting a seed that’s going to spread throughout Phillips Avenue. We all need help.”
Riverhead Central School District Superintendent Nancy Carney, who cut the ribbon with a giant pair of scissors, told the kids that this is the first-ever food pantry in the Riverhead School District.
Island Harvest President and CEO Randi Schubin Dresner seemed in awe of all the food and supplies gathered on and around the stage where the festivities were held.
“I love this school. I just can’t believe it,” she said.
After the balloons dropped from the ceiling and the cheers from the students died down, Ms. Carney presented the kids with another surprise.
“I’m Ms. Rodgers’ boss,” she said, “So I say you get an extra recess today.”
The kids cheered again, even louder than before.