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CarePacksMegan Cook taking inventory
I’ve cried over my fair share of infomercials. Not so much at the Wuggle Pets or the Genie Bras, more at the St. Jude telethons and the Save The Children TV spots. My empathy comes pouring out at the sight of the children in Latin America, gaunt but smiling, barefoot in the dirt next to their tin-shingled houses. I have been known to send a donation, but more often than I’d care to admit to myself, I’ve switched off the TV, dried my eyes, and felt really thankful for the country I live in, miles away from such blatant poverty.
Talbot County sits securely in the list of top 100 richest counties in America based on the per capita income, but hidden amidst the handsome yachts and flashy waterfront properties are folks struggling to feed themselves and keep their families healthy. Of the children enrolled at Easton Elementary School, more than 50% participate in the free and reduced meals program every day, and more than you would guess of those children are without a permanent home address. Technically speaking, they’re homeless.
“For as wealthy a county as we are, there is still a lot of poverty that isn’t transparent. But schools touch everybody,” explains Emily Moody, Easton Elementary School’s (EES) Family Liaison. Moody is one part of the two-woman team that has brought the new CarePacks Program to Easton Elementary this spring. Through CarePacks, Moody and volunteer/EES parent Megan Cook are working with the school district to provide bags of food to children who need it most during the weekends, when they may have the hardest time finding enough to eat.
The idea behind CarePacks is not a new one: there are Tiger Packs for underprivileged kids in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Power Packs for kids in North Carolina, for instance. These programs have all keyed into the needs of at-risk kids who come to school on Monday morning, hungry for more than knowledge.
Following a manual created by the Anne Arundel County Schools on just how to get a program like this going, Moody and Cook took their idea to the Talbot County Board of Education this winter, hoping to launch their idea by the fall of 2012. But everyone was eager to start sooner, so a pilot program has been launched this spring, with a target group of those with the most intense needs.
One month into this “test run,” and 34 kids are currently taking home bags of shelf-stable, kid-friendly foods every Friday afternoon. Each bag is anonymously packed by volunteers on Thursday morning and slipped into backpacks or lockers by volunteer teachers during their prep periods. Extra care is given to keep the whole affair anonymous and clandestine, but with things like granola bars and applesauce containers, raviolis and instant oatmeal packets that are easy to open, Moody reports that some of the kids themselves are too excited to keep the secret from their peers when it’s time to pack up at the end of the day.
These kids were identified collaboratively by the principals, teachers, guidance counselors, and Moody herself. Once word got out about the CarePacks program, teachers were urged to email names of kids who might benefit from the weekend food help. “There are kids who teachers worry about,” explained Moody, who received over 80 names from concerned teachers. In the end, 40 consent forms were sent homes to families and nearly all of them came back with little to no follow-up reminders.
“Once we started talking about it, things started to fall into place in a way that was just awesome,” explains Moody, giving a nod to Oasis Covenant Fellowship for offering the CarePacks team space to store, collect, and bag food in their fellowship hall, to Tidewater Rotary for donating a domain and upkeep for Carepack’s website presence, to Bean: Coffee for a Cause, Christ Church, and Aurora Investment Management Group for financial donations, and to B & G foods for donating 40 cases of food.
The plan is to keep sending CarePacks home with kids attending the summer outreach programming at Easton Elementary in June and July and support up to 150 kids by the fall. This means the shopping trips to Sam’s Club and local grocery stores like Food Lion will require bigger carts and fatter wallets. A monthly “packing Saturday” is slated to handle the increase in bags that will need to be packed with the hope that scout troops, church groups, school clubs and the like will volunteer to pitch in.
Anything from donating your plastic grocery bags, pitching in the $5 it takes to fill a student’s bag for one weekend, or donating items from the CarePacks shopping list can help. And if you’d rather just drink beer, Eventful Giving and Brasserie Brightwell are hosting a CarePacks Happy Hour Wednesday, May 16th from 5-7 PM (rain date is May 23rd) where every donor receives a free beer and all proceeds or donations during this extended happy hour go directly to feeding the students.
So while the poverty we see in other countries may feel overwhelming, tuning in to the needs of local at-risk kids looks easy to do when you watch Moody and Cook give the run-down of how to pack and knot the top of a grocery bag each Thursday morning. Last week 34 bags were packed and ready to head to Easton Elementary within 15 minutes. Just like that, help was found even though the poverty seems hidden.