By Nicole D. Batey,
Special to the AFRO
At Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary School in Baltimore City members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, along with volunteers from New Psalmist Baptist Church, are making a dent in the city’s food insecurity problem.
In an initiative launched in November the sorority’s Epsilon Omega Chapter has distributed more than 200 Power Packs, nylon bags filled with breakfast, lunch and snack foods for weekend use.
Danette Anthony Reed, international president and CEO of the sorority, developed the Empower Our Families – Childhood Hunger Initiative Power Pack Program (CHIPP) to provide weekend and holiday meals for children within local communities.
Members of AKA’s Epsilon Omega chapter and undergraduate chapters at Morgan State University, Coppin State University, and Johns Hopkins University help assemble the Power Packs and distribute them to students every Friday.
Earlier in the holiday season, New Psalmist Baptist Church provided Thanksgiving turkeys and food to the parents of the CHIPP students and recently provided Christmas gifts and food to the parents of the CHIPP students.
This comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for many families in the city, according to school officials.
Patricia Sparrow and Karen Foster, both chairs of the CHIPP program at Samuel Coleridge, see first hand the dimensions of food insecurity among the student body.
“A lot of these kids aren’t getting at least three meals a day, and they don’t always know when their next meal will be. They live in a food desert,” said Sparrow. About 30 percent of school age children in Baltimore city live in such areas.
According to the Baltimore City Health Department, a food desert is:
- An area where the distance to a supermarket or supermarket alternative is more than a quarter of a mile.
- The median household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level
- Over 30 percent of households have no vehicle available
- The average healthy Food Availability Index (HFAI) score for all food stores is low.
Sparrow and Foster also work closely with Shayne Couch-Murray, the community schools director, who said more than 70 students per year are recipients of the program for the next four years.
Donations from Pathway Forward, a non-profit entity of Allen AME Baltimore Church, where Rev. Brenda White is the pastor, and Transforming Lives CDC, the non-profit entity of New Psalmist Baptist Church, under the leadership of Bishop Walter Scott Thomas, Sr. will help undergird the program each year, from September to June.
“Even before the pandemic, we were trying to address existing food insecurity issues, because there aren’t many grocery stores in the city,” said Rev. Dr. Alfred Bailey, director of New Psalmist’s Missions and Outreach Ministry. “It’s amazing to be able to really help families during Christmas and Thanksgiving—to know that food is not an issue for parents or having gifts is not an issue, and seeing the smiles on their faces means the world!”
“One of the joys I see here is how appreciative the families are. They are overwhelmingly appreciative. Just look at the faces of the kids—their smiles. For us who serve them, there’s a sense of satisfaction we receive. It’s a contagious atmosphere of generosity and the willingness to help others,” said Darius Smith, a volunteer from New Psalmist.
Samuel Coleridge Taylor Principal Bettye Adams said, “Our babies sometimes go home to empty closets and empty refrigerators. Only two percent of the children here could read. We are a turnaround school, going from the bottom five percent in the state of Maryland to receiving a Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) three-star rating.”
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