WESTFIELD-With the new school year underway, school administrators and faculty are noticing that children across all grades are coming to school hungry.
“We want our kids to be fed because you can’t learn if you are hungry,” said Stefan Czaporowski, superintendent of schools.
Using 2010 census figures, Czaporowski noted that more than 11 percent of families living in the city exist at the poverty level which means a family of four earns $24,300 or less in a year.
“We also know using census figures that at least 900 students live below poverty,” said Czaporowski.
Even with free and reduced meals available for students who are economically disadvantaged, Czaporowski worries about dinner and weekend meals.
“We usually learn through our guidance departments or school nurses about the needs of students,” said Czaporowski. “We will find a way to deliver food to a family’s home that is in need if we know about it.”
Last Friday, Czaporowski spoke to Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce members about the status of the schools and the need to support its food pantries. Currently, food pantry shelves are depleted at Westfield Technical Academy, Highland Elementary School, Russell Elementary School, South Middle School and Abner Gibbs Elementary School. Highland School in particular has the greatest need due to a higher percentage of refugee and immigrant families who reside in that area.
Kate Phelon, executive director, Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, had sent out a message to Chamber members about the food pantry shelves being depleted.
“The business community responded to the request to help stock the food pantries by donating boxes of food items, as well as gift card donations at the September breakfast at the 104th Fighter Wing ANG base,” said Phelon. “It never ceases to amaze me that when we ask our Chamber members for help, even on short notice, they step up to the plate.”
Phelon said the Chamber office at 16 North Elm St. can also be used to drop off items for the schools; however, she does request that before dropping off a donation to call the office first at (413) 568-1618 to ensure someone will be there to accept the items.
Currently, basic nonperishable food items needed include pasta, canned vegetables, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, Ramen noodles, cold and hot cereals, and sugar.
“Toiletries are also welcome including toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo,” said Joseph Langone, principal at Westfield Technical Academy.
Recently, several volunteers and honor students at Westfield Tech greeted city residents who dropped off needed items.
“Because we have more storage space, Westfield Tech serves as a staging area and items donated are then distributed as appropriate to the other schools,” said Langone. “With our students also participating in the effort, they too understand the needs of the community.”
While basic nonperishable foods are always sought, toiletries, school supplies and gift cards are also welcomed.
“Gift cards for $10 are especially helpful for families who need to purchase basic items like milk, eggs, butter and bread,” said Czaporowski.
With the holiday season fast approaching, Czaporowski said he looks forward to working with WSKB – 89.5 FM Radio at Westfield State University to also get the word out about the need for feeding families on Thanksgiving.
“Last year we were able to provide 60 Thanksgiving dinners to students and their families in the city,” said Czaporowski. “The Monday before Thanksgiving we will once again be asking for the community’s help in assisting more families in need.”
Food donations, school supplies, gift cards and toiletries may be dropped off at any school office, at Westfield Technical Academy on Smith Avenue, or at the Chamber office.