It may surprise you that one in five students at qualifies for the federal free lunch program.
To qualify for a free lunch, a family of four must have an annual income of $29,055 or less. The free lunch program ensures that North Hills students receive not only lunch but also breakfast on school days. What happens on the weekends? For some, it’s a long wait until Monday morning’s breakfast.
Caring staff members at North Hills Junior High are preparing to launch an initiative to supplement weekend food supplies for students who qualify for the free lunch. Beginning Friday, Feb. 17, students will have the opportunity to take home care packages packed with kid-friendly, single-serving snacks and easily prepared meals. Care packages are discreetly distributed in nylon drawstring bags, which are returned the following week to be repacked for the next weekend.
Kathy Helfrich, ninth grade guidance counselor, and Holly Michael, gifted education teacher, are spearheading the initiative, which includes support from other teachers, staff members and cafeteria workers. Motivated by first-hand accounts of North Hills students who have experienced extreme hunger, they are determined to help meet students’ most basic need.
“Recently, I had a ninth grader report to a teacher that he had eaten only one meal over the weekend and that he often does not eat dinner due to money troubles. It broke my heart and opened my eyes,” Mrs. Helfrich said. “I have heard of similar backpack programs but I never thought that our kids were in need of this kind of support until I looked at the numbers.”
The initiative is being started with a modest $600 from staff donations and a large supply of drawstring bags that were donated by UPMC Dental Advantage. Mrs. Helfrich and Mrs. Michael are in the process of applying for additional grants to help sustain the program.
Donations from the North Hills community are currently being accepted. Single-serving, individually packaged items are preferred for the following items:
- Snack Crackers
- Sandwich Crackers
- Fruit Cups
- Microwave Popcorn
- Single-Serving Cereals
- Granola and Cereal Bars
- Hearty Soups
- Canned Pasta Meals
- Boxed Macaroni & Cheese
In addition, those who wish to make a monetary donation can make checks payable to North Hills Foundation and include “Backpack Initiative” in the memo. The funds raised will be used to purchase fresh fruit. Donations can be sent to the following:
Attn. Backpack Initiative
North Hills Junior High School
55 Rochester Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15237
Donations will also be collected during the school’s annual 7th and 8th Grade Celebration of Learning, which is set for Thursday, Feb. 23.
- Submitted by Tina Vojtko, on behalf of the .