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Schools Feed Students’ Need after Hurricane Irma

September 18, 2017

Eleven days away from school because of Hurricane Irma meant some students in the district went without a hot meal to eat for days. It’s something many principals, like Ruskin Elementary School Principal Rebecca Salgado, couldn’t bear to let happen and organized feedings for families.

“We know that our families rely on the meals from school for breakfast and lunch. We also have snack bags that go home every Friday. So, just knowing that school is not going to open until Monday, I made a few calls to Destiny Church and Wellspring and I said, ‘We need to feed our kids,’” said Salgado.

Ninety-two percent of the students at Ruskin Elementary qualify for free and reduced meals. The school opened its cafeteria doors Wednesday and served 40 families. That number grew to 100 families on Thursday. Friday, Ruskin Elementary invited Thompson Elementary and Shields Middle to lunch and fed more than 300 families.

“(Wednesday), I had a little girl who came to me and said, ‘I’ve had no hot food in my tummy for two days. Thank you for feeding us.’ We’re just so excited we were able to put this together for them.  When kiddos started coming in and hugging us and saying, ‘We’re so glad we’re here, because we have food, and we have snacks, and we have chips.’ This is a treat for them,” said Salgado.

Sadly, many of the students understand families’ needs. “It’s good, because some people don’t eat, and some people need food,” said Elijah, a Clair Mel Elementary School fourth-grader.

Clair Mel Elementary teamed up with Bing Elementary and Palm River Elementary to hold a group cookout on Friday.

“We’re super excited to support our families after a long week, with many without power, we wanted to support them and say we’re so excited to see you,” said Palm River Elementary School Principal Dawn Stites.

Bing Elementary hosted the barbeque. Principals and staff from Lithia Springs, Boyette Springs, and Brooker Elementaries donated supplies and also showed up to support the event, along with School Board member Lynn Gray and Area 5 leaders.

“We know especially at this time, it’s been very challenging not only for us, but also for them. In this area we’re between 90-96 percent free and reduced lunch with our students.  We serve a very diverse population, and our kids deserve the absolute best,” said Amber Cronin, Bing Elementary School principal. “Our faculties have done a tremendous job as far as helping us promote this event and helping to secure donations. We’ve probably had 20 different organizations, churches, businesses, individuals donate, so we’re so grateful to them.”

“The hotdog is good and the drink is good,” says Omar, a first-grade student at Bing Elementary.

“They give you chips, cookies, a lot of stuff you need,” said Naikia, Bing Elementary School fourth-grade student.

“It’s completely overwhelming with the amount of support from volunteers, teachers, the community, business partners who aren’t even in our community,” said Stites. “We’re super exited to see our kids and see our families.  It’s been a long emotional week.”

The support from local businesses and school partners was also evident on Friday as 3 C's Catering stepped in to offer families of Cimino Elementary School a catered pasta meal with desserts.

"Helping the community in a time like this really means a lot to our organization. We have a great partnership with Cimino and when Ms. Griffiths reached out to us for help, we were happy to do it," said John Sullivan, director of catering.

The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, similar to a Thanksgiving dinner with close family and friends. A local Girl Scouts troop had an activity center set up for children to make crafts, while families caught up with neighbors and Cimino faculty and staff.

"It truly is heartwarming to know that we're appreciated for creating this space and time for everyone to come together," Principal Joanne Griffiths said about the outpouring of gratitude from families.

Mintz Elementary School Principal Debbie Moltisanti organized a spaghetti feed for families on Friday.

“We definitely wanted to get onboard with the effort and provide some meals to our kids. Also, we’re all at cabin fever right now. Everybody misses the kids. It’s just so nice for everyone to be back, and see our families, and just be ready for school to start on Monday,” said Moltisanti.

Mintz faculty funded the feast. And in the spirit of giving, Moltisanti said any extra money raised, will go to help Lee Elementary recover from the devastating fire that destroyed the school building on Tuesday, after surviving Hurricane Irma.

“Anything that’s above and beyond what it cost us to finance the lunch, we’re going to make a cash donation to Lee Elementary. It has been an eventful week, but it’s been absolutely rewarding. Even working at the shelter has been a very rewarding experience,” said Moltisanti.

Principals are now focused on getting back to normal with classes resuming on Monday.

“We are ready for them on Monday. We’re excited. Our teachers are ready. I’m very blessed and fortunate that I can give back to our kiddos, and this is just a safe place for them,” Salgado said.

“We just want to be sure they have a nice, hot meal before the weekend and getting them back to school on Monday is really our first priority,” said Cronin.

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