Fridays might seem like a day to kick back and relax. However, Moorestown Township Public Schools aren’t relaxing just yet. They take their first Friday of each month to do something good with a program called Food For All.
The program is a community service project of the MTPS where each school collects food and donates it to three local food pantries, which serve a large variety of local citizens. The program is co-sponsored by the Moorestown Education Association with the help of Live Civilly, MooreKids and the Moorestown Home and School Association.
“The whole point of the program is to bring the community together and get the kids involved in the whole process,” Maddie Farmer, Moorestown High School junior and Food For All volunteer, said.
Food For All was started by a family in Massachusetts and found its way here through Sharon Kulik, a kindergarten teacher at Baker Elementary School. From there it grew and other organizations got involved as well as the schools to make Food For All Fridays. This May was the first full year of the program being in place at the schools.
Student volunteers like juniors Farmer, Molly Rozelle and William Stewart interviewed the heads of three local food pantries to see how much they needed, what they needed and if they would cooperate with the schools. The food pantries that were eventually chosen were Moorestown Ministerium Food Panty of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, the First Baptist Church of Moorestown’s Food Pantry and Moorestown’s Bethel AME Church’s Food Pantry.
The junior volunteers found the pantries often ran out of food certain months and weren’t able to provide for many of the individuals and families who needed it, many of whom are Moorestown residents. They needed more cooperation from the community and an equal amount of donations spread across the year.
“From our perspective, they seem to be always lacking. They are very grateful for what they get, but they always need help. We tried to fulfill the necessities that were needed,” Rozelle said.
The schools collect what the pantries need the most, which is usually food items, though occasionally they’ll need items such as paper towels or toilet paper. Food items collected usually are non-perishables, such as canned goods or powdered mixes.
A few days before Food For All Friday, MEA reusable blue bags are placed in the mailboxes of teachers. An email from H&A will be sent to parents as well, as a reminder the collection day is coming up.
On Food for All Friday, students deposit their food items in bags that are displayed. Once the children have placed their items in the bags, they are put in the hallways. Bags are then collected by volunteers, which include parents, students and teachers.
The food is sometimes sorted and bagged according to food types; otherwise it is then delivered to the local food pantries by parent volunteers.
“It’s not difficult. If everyone brought in one can of food each month from the schools, that would be a lot of donations and a lot of help,” MHS teacher Lisa Trapani said.
The MEA donated the reusable bags to collect the food items in through a grant. Teachers who are MEA members volunteer in each building to organize the monthly event.
“We had a lot of positive feedback and a lot of people benefit from the program. They talk very highly of the Food For All program and relationships with the schools,” Farmer said.
According to Rozelle, in the the high school and middle school, the program isn’t receiving as much participation as they had hoped, which they are working on to change. However, they said the response in the lower schools is great, as they have all of the students fully participate in the collection.
“The younger schools had students fully participate in the collection to make it more real. They let them know that people in the community use this pantry and that is important we all participate. To grow up and spread that idea a little more, knowing that it is important to help people, is a great benefit of the program,” Rozelle said.
The food pantries were very grateful for the donations the schools have provided.
Trapani hopes students who participate in the program realize the importance of giving back to your own community and how a little effort and organization can go a long way.
“I’d like them to get a sense of the importance of giving back to your own community, that there are people in Moorestown who utilize the food bank, and it even helps others from surrounding communities. It also shows how with little effort you can help a lot of people through organizing,” Trapani said.