A private organization of local volunteers with a unified goal of alleviating child hunger throughout the North Adams school system gained public support on Tuesday when the school district's board of education agreed to provide a physical location to assist in those efforts.
Karen Carty appeared before the board during its regular monthly meeting on behalf of the HERO Meals: Feeding Families in North Adams committee. According to Carty, the group has "taken as its personal mission" the goal of reducing the number of students in the community "who live with chronic hunger."
The HERO Meals program, Carty said, is modeled after similar efforts in Wells County involving Norwell Elementary School students, and at the Pleasant Dale Church, which serves students at Adams Central.
She said HERO Meals volunteers, with the financial assistance of private donations and business partnerships, will prepare and send home on Fridays an assortment of nutritious, non-perishable food for qualifying students to "bridge the gap for students and families who often have little or no food available to them over weekends and holidays."
The program is geared toward elementary school students already eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches at the school. Confidentiality of participating students will be maintained, she said.
According to information distributed at the board meeting, grants will be pursued by the HERO Meals group to implement the program. Donations from two local churches and Bunge North America totaling more than $1,000 are reportedly now awaiting deposit. One local church, which was not identified, has agreed to provide financial administration for the program by establishing a pass-through account.
While the volunteer group has put together the nuts and bolts of its endeavor, Carty said one remaining piece of the puzzle was a physical location where the take-home meals could be assembled for delivery to the elementary schools.
Her presentation to the board included a request for the group to use currently a vacant building on the grounds of Northwest Elementary School for that purpose, adding that HERO Meals cannot currently offer financial compensation to the school district for the use of that facility.
The volunteer group reportedly hopes to have the program in place by the start of classes this fall and, with the assistance of school officials, will prepare forms and other necessary paperwork necessary for families to enroll in the program.
North Adams Superintendent Dr. Wylie Sirk offered his support for the HERO Meals efforts, saying, "I think it's a blessing that we, as a community, can work together."
Board President Tim Ehlerding added, "Kids will be better students and better citizens if they have food in the bellies on Mondays."
The board voted 4-0, with Michelle Stimpson absent, to allow the use of a building at Northwest Elementary for the program.
In addition to Carty, members of the HERO meals start-up committee include Karen Baker, Rene Borchers, Terri Borne, Sandy Brown, Angie Foreman, Sue Girod, Amy Johnson, Claudia Karges, Mandy Lengerich, Deb Mishler, Erin Ripley, Kelly Roby and Mari Sanders.