Suffern parent Joyce Donohue first approached the school district’s elementary schools about starting a snack program with the Sloatsburg Food Pantry.
Aisha Powell, The Journal News
SLOATSBURG — When Suffern parent Joyce Donohue approached Sloatsburg Elementary School about starting a pilot snack program last year, her goal was to help make sure that needier students have access to healthier snacks.
The program now serves more than 100 students in three Suffern elementary schools with fresh produce and snacks donated from the Sloatsburg Food Pantry — a nonprofit organization established to assist residents in the area who are food insecure.
The food pantry has also provided snacks to George Grant Mason Elementary School in the Town of Tuxedo.
In the three Rockland schools that have connected with the pantry — Viola, R.P. Connor and Sloatsburg — the program’s presence remains discreet to protect the privacy of families.
Information about the program, now known as the Sloatsburg Food Pantry Healthy Snack Program, is sent to parents through the schools’ online parent portals, but teachers can also recommend the program for students who they notice don’t bring in snacks. The food is held in private areas, where students pick it up early in the day and have it ready for snack time without feeling singled out.
2 growing issues addressed
School officials rave about the program and say it has addressed two growing issues in the community: an increase in families facing economic hardship and the need to provide healthier food options to students.
Joyce Donohue, a Suffern resident and parent who started a snack donating program with the Sloatsburg Food Pantry and some Suffern Central School district elementary schools, packing fresh produce at the pantry on March 26, 2019. Donohue wanted to help students who’s parents were having difficulties getting their child food for snack time. Now the snack program is in three elementary schools, including Sloatsburg Elementary, R.P Connor Elementary and Viola Elementary. (Photo: The Journal News)
“We have a certain population in our community where students can benefit from an additional snack during the school day,” said former Sloatsburg Elementary School Principal Joseph Lloyd, who recently resigned.
Twenty-six percent of all Suffern students were eligible for free lunch in 2017-18, according to the state Education Department’s report card for the district.
When Donohue contacted Lloyd last October, she had heard concerns from teachers that some students were having trouble consistently bringing in snacks. And the school’s PTA treasurer, who sits on the Sloatsburg food pantry board, also knew that many students were already receiving food from the pantry.
Stemming out of the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church, the pantry has been offering fish, eggs, bread, produce, cereal and canned goods to locals for nearly three decades. Donohue said almost 300 families are registered and 34% of people receiving food are children.
“If we could do something to help (the schools), why not,” Donohue told Lloyd, pitching a snack program. Lloyd said that school administrators had heard similar concerns and were looking to partner with a food assistance program.
The two were a perfect fit, he said.
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Entry into the program is informal. Each school got involved when administrators, or Donohue herself, reached out to the pantry.
At each participating school a parent or teacher must volunteer to pick up the foods from the pantry. Then students choose their snacks when they arrive at school.
“When snack occurs, it is just a natural happening,” said Lloyd, whose main concern was keeping the program low key.
Nearly 15 students in his school are signed up, Lloyd said. Most students are recommendations by teachers or staff, and parents are seldom involved. The program works because it addresses students’ needs without bringing extra unwanted attention, he said.
Focus on healthy snacks
For the food pantry, providing snacks to the schools is a significant commitment. The pantry must be able to meet each school’s need while providing nearly 8,000 pounds of food a month to local residents.
They also chose suppliers who have healthier options, making it a point to avoid sugary foods and chocolate, and opting for ones with whole grains. Donohue said it’s also important to have a wide variety of options for each school, while considering common food allergies.
The snacks include fresh fruit, apple sauce, crackers and grain bars.
“Some schools are also nut-free, so we have to take that into consideration,” she said.
The program’s success in Sloatsburg was soon followed by similar praise at Viola Elementary School. Viola Principal Christine Druss said she saw a need in her school.
“It has created a shift in the culture,” she said. “This has helped us reach out even more to families in need and has made staff more aware of our students.”
Like at Sloatsburg, students can be recommended by teachers or parents for the snack program.
“We give to any child that needs food,” Druss said.
Viola gives out about 30 snacks a day.
“But nothing is obvious and students don’t feel like they are sticking out,” Druss said.
At R.P. Connor Elementary, teachers were already buying snacks for their classrooms, Principal Kelly Dowd said. When she first told the teachers about the snack program, they immediately gave her names of students who could benefit.
“We want our kids to be healthy and successful,” Dowd said. The school sent an online letter to parents detailing the snack program, with an option to opt out.
Dowd said the school gives snacks to 50-70 students a day. She said the 460-student school receives federal Title I funds due to a high number of low-income students and needs more help.
“Students can take snacks for the day or for the week, whatever they choose,” Dowd said. “And it has been a phenomenal benefit for our students and our community.”
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