More than 30 elementary school students struggled under the weight of bags packed with groceries in the multipurpose room of El Capitan Elementary School on Friday. Each kid was hauling more than 15 pounds of food home thanks to a recently expanded after-school program named Food 4 Thought.
Thanks to recent corporate sponsorships, Food 4 Thought has added four more schools in Merced and Stanislaus counties. Food 4 Thought saw a need for students who receive free breakfast and lunch at school.
Once these kids leave school, there is no one to insure that students were also getting a nutritious dinner and snacks. Children participating in Food 4 Thought spend eight hours a week in after-school programs — at least four of those hours are spent studying — and in return they receive 15 to 18 pounds of groceries twice a week from the Merced County Food bank.
Food 4 Thought has been around for 14 years in San Joaquin County and is administered by Second Harvest Food Bank in that area. Last year Foster Farms chose to underwrite the Food 4 Thought program and bring it to Merced and Stanislaus counties. This year Bank of America has joined as a corporate sponsor, and the total number of children served in Stanislaus and Merced counties is up to 825.
“I think it’s amazing that we added these new schools,” said Phyllis Legg, executive director of Merced County Food Bank.
Legg plans four menus for these students and buys groceries accordingly. She alternates the menus every Food 4 Thought delivery. Sponsoring a program like Food 4 Thought is not cheap, Legg said that it takes “a huge amount of money” to keep the program running. Ira Brill, director of communications for Foster Farms, would not comment on exactly how much Foster Farms has spent on the program, but he said that it was at least a six figure commitment.
After one year of participation in the Food 4 Thought program, students in Merced County are showing improvement in the classroom with 82 percent of parents polled saying that their children’s grades have improved as a result of participating in Food 4 Thought.
“I think the satisfaction for us comes from seeing just how well the program works,” Brill, who is also a Second Harvest board member.
Schools are chosen to participate in Food 4 Thought based on the percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunch. Many of these schools, El Capitan included, already have educational after-school programs in place.
David Jenson, after-school coordinator for Delhi Schools, said that El Capitan and Schendel Elementary schools both participate in the Assets after-school program that provides curriculum enrichment, homework help, and other activities for kids. He said that the addition of a food program will help kids whose parents find themselves on a stricter budget because of hard economic times.
“I think for the kids, they may look at it as ‘people care for us.’ They might not know why they get it but it helps,” Jenson said.
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