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Program provides students with food for their families

POSTED October 6, 2009 7:47 p.m.
Children from low income families in Stanislaus County often get free breakfast and lunch at school. But what do they eat for dinner and weekend meals when their families cannot afford food? Foster Farms and Second Harvest Food Bank of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties hope to answer that question with the Food 4 Thought pilot program in Stanislaus County schools.
The program offers students a 15 to 18 pound bag of food twice a month in exchange for their participation in eight hours of after-school programs every week. The Food 4 Thought program has been active in San Joaquin County for 13 years, but this is the first year that the program was offered in Stanislaus County and Merced County schools.
Ira Brill, director of marketing services for Foster Farms, said that the program was a good way to help out local children in need. He estimated that about 90 percent of Foster Farms employees who work in Livingston live somewhere in the Central Valley. Foster Farms funded the one-year Food 4 Thought pilot program at three elementary schools in Modesto and one in Livingston.
“I’m hoping our participation in this program will encourage other companies in the valley to step up,” Brill said.
Students at Campus Park Elementary School in Livingston received their first Food 4 Thought groceries on Sept. 25. George Solis, principal of Campus Park Elementary, said that 40 students are participating in the pilot program.
Students were selected for Food 4 Thought based on their participation in free and reduced lunch programs and their involvement in an existing after-school program. Students have to spend four hours a week in homework or tutoring programs after school, and another four hours doing other after school activities. Solis said that Campus Park Elementary offers computers, library time, athletic programs, and other activities after school to keep kids busy and engaged.
“We’re even adding a cooking class soon. The kids are excited about that because they get to eat the fruits of their labors,” Solis said.
Twice a month the students will have to sort and pack their own food bags. Solis said that is part of the program, they have to learn to choose foods for themselves. Each child gets fresh produce, protein sources, and dry goods to take home to their families.
“One first grade girl told me ‘my grandmother needs food and I’m going to share it with her,’” Solis said.
Campus Park Elementary School was selected as part of the pilot program because of its free and reduced lunch program. Solis estimated that close to 93 percent of the students at Campus Park receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. He added that when students have enough food to eat it, it is one less thing they have to worry about during the school day.
Mike Mallory, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, said that the Food 4 Thought program started out at just a few schools in San Joaquin County 13 years ago. Since then it has grown to include close to 40 schools, including the pilot schools in Stanislaus and Merced counties. Mallory said that the pilot program has been eight or nine months in the making.
“We’re thankful to Foster Farms for making that happen,” Mallory said.
Foster Farms is underwriting the pilot program for one academic year. Mallory said that Second Harvest hopes to expand the Food 4 Thought program further in Stanislaus County.
“We definitely want to have it in Turlock,” Mallory said. “It’s going to take some time, but we will get there.”
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail agoodwin@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.
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