ALBION – A Medina resident has an ambitious goal: to make sure every school-aged child in Orleans County doesn’t go hungry over the weekend.
Wayne Litchfield, a retired county dispatcher who now heads the VALOR Medical Reserve Corps for the county, wants to start a backpack program, where children would have six meals in backpacks to take home for the weekend.
He is in the early stages of trying to put together a program with VALOR partnering with Foodlink, and local churches, organizations and school districts.
“We are looking for stakeholders,’ Litchfield told the Albion Rotary Club on Thursday. “It will need to be community driven.”
Litchfield is also a volunteer with the Hands 4 Hope ministry, which distributes some food on Saturday mornings, visiting Albion twice, and Medina and Holley once each month. Hands 4 Hope also takes prayer requests from people who stop by.
The experience has been an eye-opener for Litchfield, who sees a lot of desperate families with very little food to eat. Hands 4 Hope gives away a “share” which is about $20 worth of food for each family.
Litchfield would like to start “Pack 4 Hope” for kids in school to bring home meals for the weekend. Foodlink could provide six meals per child at $2.50 per kid, Litchfield said.
His ultimate goal would be to have food for each child eligible for free or reduced lunch. The breakdown per school district for children eligible for free or reduced lunch includes 777 in Albion, 402 in Holley, 348 in Kendall, 302 in Lyndonville, and 548 in Medina. The total is 2,377 in the county, Litchfield said.
Medina’s PTSA already runs a backpack program serving 60 children. That is what the group can financially afford, he said.
To feed all of the kids on free and reduced lunch over the weekends would cost over $475,000, Litchfield said.
Foundations locally and regionally, businesses, USDA programs and other funding sources will likely be pursued, he said.
He wants to try a less daunting beginning. He is looking at a pilot project with Lyndonville, the district with the fewest number of kids eligible for free or reduced lunches with 302. Lyndonville also is considered by the federal government to be a “food desert” because there isn’t a grocery store in the village.
Jason Smith, the Lyndonville Central School superintendent, said the district would like to partner with Litchfield and VALOR.
“We support an opportunity to provide meals for some of our neediest families,” Smith said today.
The number of children eligible for free and reduced lunches may need to be a starting point for looking who could be served by such a program, Smith said. If the funding isn’t there for all children on free and reduced lunch, Smith said a backpack program serving fewer children could be a possibility.
Litchfield said a backpack program could be run through VALOR, which is a non-profit with a 501c3.
He wants to pack nutritious meals for kids – fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains and protein.
With better meals over the weekend, students would see improved attendance at school, and a better ability to concentrate, especially earlier in the school week, leading to higher grades, Litchfield said.
For more information, Litchfield can be reached at the Health Department, Wayne.Litchfield@orleanscountyny.gov or at (585) 589-2869.
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