Published: Apr 21, 2012 11:26 PM
Modified: Apr 21, 2012 11:27 PM
Chocolate milk is a treat for third-grader Sidi Ceesay. Each Friday, when he goes to Counselor Monica Gibbs’s office at Reedy Creek Elementary School, he looks forward to his Friday afternoon treat.
Ceesay is one of 50 students at Reedy Creek who picks up a sealed plastic bag with non-perishable foods to help him get through the weekend without a rumbling belly. He even shares his chocolate milk stash with younger brother, Eugene, 4.
“For eight months, I didn’t have a job,” said Sidi’s mother, Ndey Ceesay. “I really appreciate the program. I just started working again, and I’m trying to get back on my feet.”
The bags, known as Weekend Power Packs, are packed by volunteers from John Deere, just down the street in Cary. Each Wednesday during the school year, a different department drives to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, picks up the corn flakes, milk, applesauce, mac and cheese, and other items and assembles the foods for delivery to Reedy Creek by Thursday.
Gibbs appreciates the food items, but she also knows many more students need assistance.
“Fifty students receive the Weekend Power Packs, but 57 percent of Reedy Creek’s student population is on free and reduced lunch,” she said. “For the students who are fortunate enough to receive the bags, they depend on them. They are very, very important.”
Gideon Adams, senior manager for programs and outreach at the Food Bank, said “The 50 Weekend Power Packs are not because there are only 50 in need. There is certainly room for expansion.”
Reedy Creek is not the only recipient of the bags. Lincoln Heights Elementary in Fuquay-Varina is also part of a pilot program between corporate sponsor John Deere and the food bank. In January, John Deere employees began assembling the items for students each week school has been in session.
The John Deere Foundation has asked the Food Bank to draft a proposal to extend the pilot program into a three-year commitment, said Adams.
“It’s a winning combination,” he said. “John Deere’s staff has a tangible involvement with the corporate sponsorship, and logistically it works tremendously well for us. While we’re always looking for volunteers, this keeps the commitment personal and well-defined. It also makes it easy for people to give. They can see a clear way to contribute.”
Cheri May, whose husband, John, is vice president of turf and utility at John Deere, was one of those people. When discussions about the Weekend Power Pack program started back in November, May wondered what would happen to the students over winter break. The weekly food delivery wouldn’t start until January.
“It broke my heart to think they might be so hungry,” said May. “We have two middle-schoolers, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back.”
The May family went to Sam’s Club and bought items like the ones found in Weekend Power Packs, then assembled them for students to take home over the break.
Gibbs said so much food was donated that Reedy Creek was able to stockpile some of the items so students would not go hungry over spring break either.
“I hope it inspires other people to take on a similar project,” said May.
Adams hopes so, too. “We would like to take the success of John Deere’s sponsorship to other prospective sponsors,” he said. “I think programs like the Weekend Power Pack highlight the need in our community. People don’t talk about hunger; it’s an ugly topic. But with the struggling economy, everyone is working together. It’s wonderful to see.”
Over the summer, the Food Bank administers a federal program called Kids’ Summer Meals where it delivers food to feeding sites. These community-based organizations can include churches, schools or youth centers – any place that serves primarily low-income children.