Massena eyes junior high as site for official food pantry

MASSENA — The paperwork is set to go and waiting for approval to make J.W. Leary Junior High School an official food pantry.

“I think we have a great plan, and pending board (of education) approval, our application is ready to go. (Principal Amanda Zullo) and her team at the junior high and I have really been having a great time at brainstorming this,” Community Schools Director Kristin Colarusso-Martin said.

She said some high school students were coming to school hungry, but there was no after-school snack program available.

“We can’t have the after-school snack program this year because we can’t have after-school programming thanks to COVID,” Ms. Colarusso-Martin said.

She has been reaching out to the district’s partner agencies in the community to provide snacks and drinks for students at the high school.

“It’s kind of made a big impact. (The students) are very thankful,” she said.

A table near her office contains snacks and free books that are available to students.

“What’s really neat is that my office is in the 400 wing and the teachers there are using it as an opportunity to connect with kids and stop over and talk to them. Teachers have actually started leaving food and books as well. So it’s becoming a space for our faculty to make connections with kids, which is exactly what we want to do,” Ms. Colarusso-Martin said.

But now, she said, she has started to run out of food from partner agencies, and she started working with junior high counselor Van Alexander to see if they could remedy that problem.

“Van and I were talking about possibly looking into making the junior high an official food pantry, registered through the Central New York Food Bank. If we do this, we’d actually be only one of two in our region, the other being Harrisville,” she said.

A designation as a food pantry would make the school eligible for additional federal funding and to receive food from the Food Bank of Central New York.

Ms. Zullo said teachers, counselors and administrators have been working to make connections with students. Teachers have made home visits, and Mr. Alexander and Dean of Students Richard Norris have assisted families with their needs.

“We’ve got Mr. Alexander and Mr. Norris who are meeting the needs of some of our students and families when they call and they need things like food, things like hygiene supplies, warm clothing and food supplies.

Now they have connected with Ms. Colarusso-Martin to come up with a plan to address the needs of students and families.

“This seemed like a very natural fit for the building and for a lot of the work we’ve been focused on doing this year,” Ms. Zullo said.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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