Food insecurity is no longer an issue that affects “others,” or can simply be fixed in a rush during the holiday season when sentiment — and pressure — has reached its peak during the calendar year.
Yet, the entire Haddonfield Middle School community dedicated an entire week, starting Dec. 9, towards collecting high-protein foodstuffs to ease the burden on those who need it most. The well-intentioned gains will be given to local families whose children require steady meals during the upcoming winter break.
“Over November break, we had a group of sixth-graders who were helping out around town. We retweeted and shared their information with the staff. Once that went out, Kathy Harting — who’s one of our moms, her son Ashton is in 6th grade — reached out to me and said if we were open to it, and could we find additional service opportunities,” explained HMS Principal Tracy Matozzo.
Harting said she was researching a potential December service opportunity for her kids who participate in YoungLife’s WYLDLIFE program, and thought it would be a great idea to extend it to all the borough’s middle schoolers.
“Kathy paired up with one of her friends, who’s an educator for a school in Camden, who was sharing with her that over winter break, some of her children have a lack of food resources. Their meals are had at school. She reached out and asked if it would be possible for us to do a food drive and fill up their food pantry, we said ‘absolutely,’” Matozzo said.
Harting’s colleague explained how many of the students at her school are there first thing in the morning for breakfast and often stay through dinner.
Matozzo drew on her experiences as Dean of Students at Haddonfield Memorial High School regarding which kinds of food would be best to donate: all kinds of nut-based butter, tuna, eggs, yogurt among them. She also said, unlike some schools which turn donations into a friendly competition to drive donations, that was not the point here.
“We didn’t want it to be a competition, but rather just give students the opportunity to understand that there is such a thing as ‘food insecurity,’” she said.
Matozzo wants her charges to understand that there are children around the same age — who may be very close to home — dealing with a similar problem.
“We did reach out to our families in the past two weeks to see if our own families could be helped by some of the (donations) as well. It’s likely that we’ll be putting together food baskets for our own families. We want them to be upstanding (citizens) and unbeknownst to some of them, they are also helping out some of their friends,” she added.
Regarding families in this area, Matozzo revealed that three municipalities — Haddonfield, Haddon Heights and Haddon Township — are not on the list for South Jersey Food Bank where they travel. The SJFB tends to cover larger communities with a higher rate of free or reduced lunch.
“We’ve also learned that some programs through the New Jersey Department of Education and the federal government aren’t necessarily accessible because sometimes our families are hesitant to complete the paperwork that would ultimately benefit them,” she added.
“We want to reinforce that there are programs that are anonymous and confidential and that are there to support children.”
Matozzo also stated she hoped to have enough food collected to fill the pantry for at least 3-to-6 families for the winter-break period.
Harting was scheduled to make a pair of pick-ups and drop-offs during the week.
“I’m a big believer in the (oft-quoted Jesuit adage), ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ Haddonfield is an extraordinary community and when given an opportunity to bless others, they do so and with spectacular generosity,” she said.