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FOOD INSECURITY: Retired School Folks Sponsor Kids Summer Meal Program

Bay City's Linsday School Focus of "Blessings in a Backpack"

March 26, 2016       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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School teachers are perhaps closest to the nation's children -- so they know their pain caused by hunger and privation nearly as well as parents.

The condition of these children is a result of our trickle-down economy where the rich, in effect, steal from the poor.

Kids Count Michigan, a report of the Michigan League for Public Policy in cooperation with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that of 6,500 Bay County school children about 44 percent are eligible -- because of low family income -- to receive free or reduced-price lunches.

The Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel (MARSP) is launching an initiative across the state in 2016 called Summ're Hungry -- an effort to address children's hunger and increase public awareness about food insecurity among school children in the summer months.

(Full disclosure: I am a member of the Bay County Chapter of MARSP and served three terms as president. Besides former teachers, the group includes secretaries, cooks, bus drivers, maintenance staff and administrators.)

The Michigan Association of School Administrators (MASA) and the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) have also agreed to support the Summ're Hungry community service project in the communities we all serve.

MARSP officials say one in four children in Michigan lives in poverty and when school's out many children are "food insecure." Without the school breakfast and/or lunch they rely upon when school is in session, they may not know where their next meal will come from or if they will have food at all.

Blessings in A Backpack is a program at Linsday School in Bay City's Banks area that provides food for low-income families. Volunteer Dena Cunningham and her family members coordinate with school secretary Molly Connors, Principal Jill Ball and other school staff and parents. The effort fills backpacks for 100 needy youngsters every week. Food is collected through Safe Harbor Kitchen, a soup kitchen and food bank operated at the Riverwalk Baptist Church under leadership of Chad Cunningham, husband of Dena. Financial assistance is provided by Maier & Associates, a philanthropic leader in the community.

While many MARSP chapters already conduct food drives as community service projects, the Summ're Hungry initiative will create a more cohesive statewide effort and generate media attention to the issue.

It is our hope this statewide visibility effort with food drives conducted annually will help get more communities engaged in the issue. I must admit that this concept is simply an expansion of the great work numerous chapters are already performing. But, as I believe the saying goes: 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.'

MARSP is partnering with the Food Bank Council of Michigan (FBCM) and school organizations to launch the effort in a number of school districts across the state in late April or early May.

FBCM will handle the logistics and distribute donations of food and funds to its food pantries throughout the state.

Says S. Mark Guastella, executive director of MARSP: "As this is our first year, we are holding back on the number of chapters that will formally participate, in an effort to make sure we have a good handle on the logistical support necessary to expand substantially in future years.

"I have gained so much knowledge as we have been working on this project from Dr. Phillip Knight, executive director of the FBCM. He is one of the most dynamic speakers I have ever heard and his life experiences in helping people throughout the world, 128 nations to be exact, put into context the problem of food insecurity. Too many of our children live in poverty conditions, not unlike some third world nations.

"Our membership looks at this truly sad reality and says 'Not in our community!'

"In fact, I would bet almost every MARSP member has made a sandwich for a hungry student at one time or another. This is why the Summ're Hungry project is such a perfect fit for MARSP. We know that our efforts alone, especially in our first year, cannot and will not solve the problem of food insecurity. But, I am so proud to see the reaction of our members and leadership in supporting this tremendously needed program."

MARSP and FBCM are coordinating with some school associations to identify districts and buildings where the drives will be held, said Guastella. For those of you who would like to support this wonderful project but are not in one of the selected districts, we will have information available in the MARSP office on how you can support the effort."

Contact information:, e-mail, or phone 888-960-4022.


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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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