The first shipment from the Food Bank of CNY arrived today in Watertown in preparation for the resumption of the Watertown City School District Backpack program.
The unique partnership of the school district, the City of Watertown and the United Way of NNY will allow the district to provide more food at a lower cost to at-risk students this year.
The United Way created a partnership with the Food Bank of CNY so that lower-priced, bulk -purchased food can be ordered on-line and then delivered to the school district’s building on Massey Street where backpacks are prepared for students at Starbuck and Ohio elementary schools.
The Food Bank of CNY makes scheduled stops twice a month to food pantries throughout the region, and is now adding the school district to its route. "Last year school officials were pushing shopping carts through grocery stores and buying food," said Bob Gorman, CEO for the United Way of NNY. "Now they can order food with the click of a mouse and have it brought right to their door step."
The program is being paid for through tax-deductible donations made to the United Way of NNY. The United Way opened the account this summer with approximately $4,500 raised last year, and employees of the Watertown school district recently pledged to donate nearly $6,000 to the program through payroll deduction to the United Way. This is in addition to the $11,800 employees are donating to support all United Way programs.
The program also got a recent boost from the City of Watertown, which is contributing $5,000 from its federal Community Development Block Grant.
"The funding will enable children to be better prepared and ready to learn with the long-term goal of improving physical and mental health, test scores, attendance and graduation rates," said Watertown Mayor Joseph Butler. "The city is excited to be a partner on this project with both the school district and the United Way of Northern New York."
The backpack program, which begins Oct. 14, will serve an estimated 120 students at Starbuck and Ohio Elementary schools. Starbuck Elementary has an enrollment of just under 200 students representing 145 families. Ohio Elementary has an enrollment of 350 students representing 284 families, according to Chad Fairchild, principal of Starbuck Elementary.
"Both schools have a free and reduced lunch rate that hovers around 70 percent," said Fairchild. "This high percentage rate serves as an indicator to let the greater school community know where the efforts of the backpack program will be most helpful."
Craig Orvis, the school district director of food services, recently emailed his first order for 4,000 pounds of food, which he estimates will fill backpacks for three weeks. He is scheduling other deliveries through the rest of the school year.
Students at Watertown High are volunteering to pack bags. The National Honor Society and the girls' varsity swim team will handle the first two months.
The school district will also hold a backpack fundraiser called "Kids Night Out" at Case Middle School on Dec. 16.