Helping children learn to serve, by providing healthy snacks

It’s not a bit uncommon for schools to hold food drives to help provide holiday meals for the poor, but Connerton Elementary School has a new program aimed at helping children who are hungry over weekends.

The program, called Pack-A-Sack, is similar to some already under way at schools where a large percentage of children eat free or reduced-price meals, Connerton principal Aimee Boltze said.

Kensington Mize, left, and her sister Maryalice are involved in an effort at Connerton Elementary School to help ensure no students attending their school go hungry over the weekend. (Courtesy of John Mize)

Kensington Mize, left, and her sister Maryalice are involved in an effort at Connerton Elementary School to help ensure no students attending their school go hungry over the weekend.
(Courtesy of John Mize)

On the surface, Connerton doesn’t seem like a school where children would need food assistance on the weekend. But that reality is that 36 percent of Connerton’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, Boltze said.

And some of those children are chronically hungry, said John Mize, a parent volunteer who has helped Connerton establish the Pack-A-Sack program. Mize was discussing this need when Boltze and they decided to tackle the challenge of helping these children.

“Over the last six months, we developed the strategy,” he said. “We identified the children that need the support.”

Boltze also assigned Sarah Owen, of the school’s exceptional student education staff, to serve as the school liaison.

Mize has played a huge role in getting the program going, Boltze said. The Land O’ Lakes man and wife Stephanie put a high priority on teaching their children the importance of serving others.

They have two daughters attending Connerton — 9-year-old Kensington, 9, and Maryalice, 7. They also have a son Patrick, 4, who will start kindergarten there next year.

Mize sits on the board of a nonprofit organization, Start-A-Snowball, that provides $100 grants to support youth service projects. He said his work with that organization has inspired him to be involved at Connerton.

The Mizes, Boltze and Owen have helped to foster collaboration between students, faculty, parents, local businesses and local churches, to launch the supplemental nutrition program.

“Initially, we want to start with the food,” Mize said. “Long-term, we want to branch out to other services.”

For instance, a partnership is being formed with Myrtle Lake Baptist Church, he said. The church plans to get involved with food drives, with tutoring and possibly even some sports league scholarships.

Another group at school is doing a clothing drive, Boltze said. The school’s first food drive yielded enough food o supply the first few months of the program.

“We packed 344 sacks of food in 45 minutes,” Mize said. “It was a sight to be seen.”

Mize got help from his family, Owen, a youth group from Gathering Pointe Church, and David Bisignano, who teaches at Connerton and leads a church youth group.

The plan is to provide the supplemental foods every weekend and during the holidays, Boltze said. The school plans to hold additional food drives and welcomes help from residents, businesses and community organizations, Mize said.

Unlike many food drives, which seek canned goods and other nonperishable food items, this one specifically seeks kid-friendly items. Those items are easy to open, offer nutritional value, and require no preparation.

“This is about making sure kids have food to eat,” Mize said. “We feel like if kids don’t have enough food to eat, they’re not going to be able to learn.”

Mize hopes other schools will set up their own programs.

“Ultimately we would like to create a model that can be replicated at other schools,” Mize said.

Want to help?
Here are the items that Connerton Elementary School needs for its Pack-A-Sack program:

• Peanut butter (12- to 18-ounce jar) and a sleeve of crackers
• Cereal (1-ounce box)
• Fruit cups (mixed fruit, peaches, applesauce, etc.)
• Animal crackers
• Goldfish Crackers
• Pudding cups
• Raisins (snack-sized boxes)
• Cereal bars or granola bars
• Cheese or peanut butter cracker sandwiches
• Ritz Bits Cheese (individual packages)
• Vienna sausages

For more information, email Sarah Owen at , call the school at (813) 346-1800, or email parental liaisons John and Stephanie Mize at .

Published October 15, 2014

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