Students seek donations for New Paltz summer school food assistance program

These New Paltz High School seniors will be taking part in “Food for Thought,” a summer breakfast and snack program for English-As-A-New-Language (ENL) students. Pictured left to right are: Autumn Martini, Nicholas Thompson and Nolan Ferro. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

In cities like Newburgh or Kingston, it’s obvious that some of the residents are struggling financially. In the college town of New Paltz, where the hustle and bustle of students and tourists can sometimes feel like a street festival that somebody forgot to close traffic off to, not so much. Other than the presence of Family of New Paltz on North Chestnut Street, there aren’t many overt signs that any of the locals are dealing with not knowing where their next meal will come from. But food insecurity is, indeed, a very real issue for some people in New Paltz, according to several students enrolled in New Paltz High School’s “PIGLETS” class, and they are doing something about it.

The PIGLETS class — the name is an acronym for Participation in Government, Literature and Economics for Today’s Students — is basically a fusion of English and social studies, with much of the work taking place in the community outside classroom walls. Graduating seniors Autumn Martini, Nolan Ferro and Nick Thompson are completing their final project in the class by joining forces with Duzine/Lenape PTA president Jenn Voorhis and “Food For Thought,” a breakfast and snack program that ensures summer school students enrolled in the New Paltz district’s ENL (English as a New Language) program don’t go hungry. (The New Paltz Central School District does not qualify for the federal summer school meal program.)

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Voorhis explains that Food For Thought began in 2013 when Duzine kindergarten teacher, Rebecca Burdett, shared her concerns regarding the issue of food insecurity facing the students in her summer school program. “She teamed up with the Duzine/Lenape PTA and started Food for Thought. Information about the program was sent home to district parents and an article in New Paltz Times was printed. In the meantime, we coordinated with the district director of food services, Mike Robinson, who hired kitchen staff and planned a breakfast and snack menu for the summer.”

In less than eight weeks, the group raised $14,000, which paid for more than 3,000 breakfasts and 4,000 snack bags over the last four years.

That money has funded the program up to now, but there’s not enough left to cover the program this summer. Voorhis says their hope is that, as in 2013, the community will respond to this need again.

The cost to provide a healthy breakfast at school and a brown-bag snack for a student to take home is $2.25 a day or $55 for the entire summer.

The students in the PIGLETS class who are working on this project are out to raise both awareness in the community that there are a number of people dealing with food insecurity, and funds to help alleviate the problem. They each took on the task of helping Food For Thought because the issue resonated with them.

The knowledge that some students in the district are dealing with food insecurity was not news to Autumn Martini, who says she herself grew up in New Paltz in a family that struggled financially, where food stamps were the norm and you had to wait until the next paycheck came in to see if there would be enough left over for any kind of a treat, like pizza. “It’s something you don’t talk about to other kids,” she says. “It’s not something you want them to know about.”

Nick Thompson says he first became aware of the problem when the PIGLETS class did volunteer work at local food banks and food pantries. “I didn’t realize before that food insecurity can hit anyone. It’s emotional to see people struggling, and you just want to help out any way you can.”

Nolan Ferro agrees. “When we heard from Jenn about how her program needed to raise money, we wanted to help out.” He wonders, though, whether their efforts are really doing anything in the long run, at which point Voorhis notes that a single act of giving can have a ripple effect.

That reminds Ferro of an example of that they learned about while volunteering at Family of New Paltz. “A woman came in to ‘Family,’ just looking for a ride to a job interview. That’s all she wanted. Years later, her son came in. He wanted to say ‘thank you’ to ‘Family’ for giving his mom that ride, because she got the job that day and that job paid for his education. He was studying medicine.”

The students have been doing a variety of fundraisers in the community, collecting donations and enlisting the help of Village Pizza, which donated 15 percent of its revenues last Saturday to Food For Thought.

The next fundraiser is called “Bistro Feastro,” and will be held at Main Street Bistro, 59 Main Street, on Saturday, June 3 from 7-10 p.m. Admission is a suggested $5 donation that goes to Food For Thought. Two bands will play live — Nick Thompson’s band “My Parents” and local band CRUSH — and non-alcoholic beverages and refreshments will be available. The event is suitable for all ages.

There is also a GoFundMe campaign launched with a $2,000 goal. Visit gofundme.com/8h3y37-food-for-thought or just search “Food For Thought New Paltz” on the GoFundMe site. Check donations made out to “Duzine Lenape PTA” with “Food For Thought” in the memo line may be sent to Lenape Elementary School, Attn: Food For Thought/PTA, 1 Eugene Brown Dr., New Paltz NY 12561.