People’s Place helping hungry kids with vacation program

Just a small part of the groceries collected for the Bag Holiday Hunger initiative. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

People’s Place, a Kingston-based thrift store and food pantry, will hold its first-ever Bag Holiday Hunger initiative, a program intended to give the families of public-school students in Ulster County who participate in free and reduced-price meal programs the means to help feed their children during the winter break. Bags can be picked up at People’s Place at 17 St. James St. in Kingston on Dec. 22 and 23 and 27-29. For hours and information, visit www.peoplesplaceuc,org, www.facebook.com/PeoplesPlaceKingston, or call (845) 338-4030.

Bag Holiday Hunger grew out of Bag Summer Hunger, which People’s Place has held for the past two years. According to People’s Place Executive Director Christine Hein, a survey given to families involved in the summer program identified the Christmas season as a time of need.

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“If you think about it, it almost has to be,” Hein explained. “Whether you agree with the large merchandising of the holiday or not, this is what children are seeing. It stresses parents out with holiday gifts and Christmas gifts, where is all this money coming from now that your child is out of school for at least a week, and in some districts longer. It’s well-documented that children who get free and reduced lunch don’t have access to food, and their parents are already working on a tight budget.”

According to People’s Place, around 10,000 children in the county receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch in public schools. Hein said the 2016 Bag Summer Hunger program saw a substantial increase in participation over the previous year, with over 35,000 meals and 18,000 snacks distributed during the summer. Part of the increase was due to awareness, something she hopes continues with the Bag Holiday Hunger program. Ulster County isn’t unique in its prevalence of hungry children, Hein noted. “We are not experiencing anything different here in Ulster County than what’s happening in counties all across the United States,” she said. “This is an epidemic, if you will. It’s not unique to Ulster County or the Hudson Valley by any stretch of the imagination.”

Parents or guardians of school age children in Ulster County are eligible to receive a bag of breakfast and lunch items for the winter break, including a variety of cereal or instant oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly, soup, ravioli, cheese, bread, fruit, snacks, juice, and a milk card good for a gallon of milk from any Stewart’s Shop in the area.

“People don’t only have hunger, but they are nutritionally starving,” said Hein. The program is in addition to the food pantry rather than a replacement for it. “They may be eating, but they’re not eating healthy food choices, foods that offer a high level of nutrition, a high level of vitamins and minerals. A lot of time people just eat so that they’re not hungry. A lot of carbs don’t really offer any real nutritional value. Studies show that a lot of times children will eat high-fat or high-carb foods that are not really helping with their body’s development and growth, their brain’s development and growth. So hopefully some of what we offer will also help nutritionally as well.”

People’s Place is also working on an initiative to distribute toys to help over 1300 children during the holidays. Assistance from the public for each of their programs would be appreciated, said Hein.