DAVENPORT – Jennifer Erb-Hancock is gearing up for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 22, and as the principal of Loughman Oaks Elementary School, she has a lot to do to ensure the school is ready to welcome back the students.
But Erb-Hancock had another important task at hand: to ensure that her school’s food pantry was fully stocked.
“It’s well under way,” she said. “They did a fund-raiser recently, and our pantry is getting well stocked. We will be ready to send food home that first weekend.”
Schools in this region are busy getting ready to open their doors, looking to be prepared to meet the students’ academic needs, including getting them ready for the FCAT testing. But some of the schools, Loughman Oaks included, also have another task: to ensure their students don’t leave the school hungry. It’s one of the challenges for a number of local schools that have a higher than average ratio of students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.
It’s one of the reasons why Loughman Oaks Elementary has been getting assistance from the Green Bag Project and the Davenport Four Corners Kiwanis. Their goal has been to raise funds to help get food stocked at the school, so students not only get the meals they need at breakfast and lunch time, but in many instances are able to take home food to eat over the weekend.
The Green Bag Project is a program based at 1503 Legends Drive in ChampionsGate, which collects and distributes food to needy families. It started modestly more than a year ago, with volunteers dropping off green shopping bags in local neighborhoods, with notes attached asking people to put any spare food they could offer inside it. The bags were collected, and the food was given to local food pantries.
Since then, with the solid support of business and civic groups, Green Bag Project has grown, and now has a Paypal account on it web site that people can donate to. The web site is www.green-bag-project.org.
The Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, a trade group representing the fast-growing number of vacation homes in Osceola and Polk counties, adopted Green Bag Project as its charitable cause for the entire year, and urges members to support the non-profit program at each of its monthly meetings. And one of the things that Green Bag focuses on is getting food to schools where a high percentage of students come from needy homes – and would go home hungry with the food they get at their school.
Loughman Oaks, which has been assisted by Green Bag, is one of them.
“It’s basically a very poor school,” said Tom Brannigan, founder of the Green Bag Project. “A lot of the children come from very low income homes.”
Green Bag holds fundraisers to help the school — including a recent one that ended on July 26.
“In connection with the Four Corners Rotary Club, we had a raffle and sold $2,581 worth of raffle tickets,” Brannigan said.
“We feel it’s been a success and it does impact the kids in a positive way,” Erb-Hancock said. “Honestly, by feeding the kids it makes them ready for school and it builds good relationships with their families. They know they can come to us and get help.”
Roughly 80 percent of Loughman Oaks Elementary students are considered economically disadvantaged, qualifying for free and reduced price school meals. That brought them the support of the Kiwanis and the Four Corners Area Council, the business group in Four Corners, which adopted the Green Bag Project to provide food and clothing to disadvantaged Loughman students and families.
Anthony Mitchell, a member of both the council and the Kiwanis, who also serves on the school advisory committee at Loughman, noted that “Many families are at low paying jobs, if they have a job at all. Most are from single parent homes. The challenges at home are often carried to school.”
Green Bag Project provided nearly $5,000 in clothes and has filled the school’s stage with food for Loughman families, Mitchell said, adding “If we remove hunger, then we have a fueled body to excel and achieve whatever is placed in front of them.”
Erb-Hancock agreed, saying “That’s why we identify the families on the free lunch program. But we also help families who say we need it just one time. We help them out. And as long as we get the community support to continue doing this, we will continue to help our families.”
The Green Bag Project provided a lot of help to her school last year, Erb-Hancock said, and she believes it will do the same this summer.
“They just did another drive for us, and they’re going to be purchasing more food for us as well,” she said.
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