In 2012, as the school year came to a close, the newly elected board of the PTO at Nate Perry Elementary in Liverpool, N.Y., began to look at the group’s goals for the following school year. The 386-student, K-6 school, PTO Today’s Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Community Service Project, had an excellent group when it came to fundraising and other traditional activities, but it was at this time that the leaders decided their PTO ought to serve a greater purpose. To fill that purpose—as well as the bellies of needy students—the group launched a food pantry initiative to ensure that no one would go hungry.
School nurse Marlene Maloney had been running a small food pantry for holiday needs for several years and gave her blessing for the PTO to expand upon it. Their generous goal was to provide food for needy families not only during the holidays but also for daily needs, especially over the weekends. “Some students leave on Fridays and don’t get another full meal until Monday morning—a harsh reality that no one should have to face, especially a child,” says PTO president Dina D’Onofrio-Aubel.
The system at Nate Perry is a well-oiled machine. Pamela Moquin, a kindergarten teacher at the school and vice president of the PTO, created a system matching specific food pantry items to students’ grade levels to guarantee an assortment of donations. Charitable local businesses even joined the service project by donating gift cards or food from drives they hosted themselves, which, D’Onofrio-Aubel says, helps keep the pantry stocked during higher-need times of year like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Each Thursday evening, backpacks are packed with food until they are difficult to zip. The bags are distributed to teachers on Friday mornings. At the end of the school day, the teachers inconspicuously pass the backpacks to bus drivers, and as a student exits the bus, the driver discreetly hands him a bag filled with plenty of nutritious food to sustain a family until Monday morning. Some families rely on the backpacks all year; some request them periodically. The Nate Perry food pantry is there to meet all needs.
Education is sadly and often silently interrupted by hunger even in students who come from two-income families. By helping provide three healthy meals a day to families in need, the group is contributing to the whole and proper education of the children at Nate Perry Elementary.
What the judges loved: The Nate Perry Elementary PTO worked to meet these very basic student needs in addition to planning traditional parent group projects like holding family nights and funding field trips.
Cool fact: Building on last year’s efforts, in the coming year the PTO hopes to supply the pantry with toiletries and school supplies to distribute to students, as well.