RAVENNA — Two Willyard Elementary School counselors in Ravenna are trying to make a difference in student hunger.
Counselor Andrea Morgan and Intervention Specialist Aleah Dunaye are spearheading a new program they have termed Raven Packs. It is modeled after Stow’s Bulldog Bags program, which provides food for students over the weekend.
Two years ago, Morgan and Sunaye began noticing that some students would store extra food from a share bin at lunch in their book bags, ask for snacks or tell them they didn't have food when they went home. Morgan said students were coming into school hungry and worrying about where their next meal would be, "instead of simple worries a young child should have."
She said while it has taken some time, she and Dunaye are starting a non-profit organization to provide weekend food bags. She said similar efforts have been made across the district but through the non-profit, they can unify the efforts into one.
"As a district, we are all working with different churches and organizations that provide food for our students, but Aleah and I wanted to unify what everyone was doing and provide for our own students without relying on other people to help us," Morgan said.
In May, the pair sent letters and surveys to the community explaining their intentions and asking for assistance. In the letter, Morgan stated there is an 80 percent poverty rate in Ravenna and every student in the district qualifies for free breakfast and lunch through the schools.
"Research shows when children’s basic needs are not met, they are less likely to be successful in school," she said. "Of the roughly 1,100 students across all four elementary schools, many of those students have little to no food at home."
The idea for the non-profit was born out of concern, she said.
"We worry about them when they can't access school meals" Morgan said. "It weighs heavy on our hearts when we don't see them for an extended period of time because a lot of them don't have basic necessities at home."
While she recognizes there is a great need in the area, Morgan said they want to roll out the program slowly and target 20 percent of the neediest elementary students, which would amount to about 255 students to start. She said the program would start as a monthly food bag program for the identified students with additional assistance over long holiday weekends beginning in January. To accomplish this she said committees will need to be established to oversee various aspects of the program including community awareness, participant database management, fundraising, assembly and others.
To fund the program Morgan said they are seeking donations, grants, exploring food drives, local business fundraiser nights, assistance from the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank and other community organizations. All fundraising would be done through the new non-profit. According to Morgan, the cost of an individual food bag would be $2. So to serve 255 students once would cost $510, and to serve them from January to May would cost $2,550.
Because a program like this is a "huge undertaking," Morgan said they are seeking community support and will be holding an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. July 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Reed Memorial Library in the Jenkins Room.