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Student hunger looms large in MASD; about one in seven sign up for RaiderPacks food program

By Dan Miller


Posted 10/4/17

How large does hunger loom in Middletown Area School District?

The new RaiderPacks program is one indicator. To date, about 340 students enrolled in the school district have applied for the …

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Student hunger looms large in MASD; about one in seven sign up for RaiderPacks food program


How large does hunger loom in Middletown Area School District?

The new RaiderPacks program is one indicator. To date, about 340 students enrolled in the school district have applied for the program, which seeks to provide food to get needy students through the weekends when they are not in school eating school breakfasts and lunches. Those 340 students come from about 200 families.

That’s one in every seven students in the school district, based on a total enrollment of 2,353. And the 340 will grow as “we still have more coming in every day” interested in RaiderPacks, said Cindy McLaughlin, a learning support/emotional support teacher at Kunkel Elementary School.

“I knew the need was there, I knew the need was great. But I truly didn’t realize that the need was as great as it was,” said McLaughlin, who is starting RaiderPacks in Middletown along with Marta Monroig, a fifth-grade teacher at Kunkel.

McLaughlin is also surprised at how many families signing up for the program are headed by single-parent dads. She expected single-parent moms, but not this many single-parent dads.

McLaughlin was inspired to start RaiderPacks after volunteering to help fill backpacks of food for NutriPacks, a similar program up and running in Central Dauphin School District.

McLaughlin is in her 31st year teaching in the Middletown district. When many other teachers would be ready to retire, McLaughlin is just getting her second wind.

“When my kids were little I had to go home at 3:30 or 4. I didn’t have time to do all the extra things I wanted to do. I always had the passion for it, but I didn’t have the time because I had to be home with the kids,” McLaughlin said. “Meeting Marta, honestly, the two of us have done so much over the past five years. When you find someone as motivated as you are, you motivate each other and nothing’s impossible.”

“We don’t come into teaching for the paycheck,” said Monroig, now in her 10th year at Kunkel. “You come in to make a difference. We always say, ‘What’s another project that we can do to make a difference?’"

To Monroig, RaiderPacks is about giving all children in the school district the same opportunity to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

Parents shouldn’t “have to choose between putting money towards food and putting money towards activities or a new pair of shoes, or a book,” she said.

Monroig knows what that’s like. Her family immigrated to this country from Poland in 1987 when she was 7.

“We were on public assistance but we were never hungry because my parents really prioritized education and food. But there were other things that I did without,” Monroig said. “So I really put myself in the shoes of these families — having to pick and choose which things do you put the money towards, and which things you don’t.”

As with the Central Dauphin program, RaiderPacks will provide backpacks full of food for the weekend to families in need that apply to the program for assistance. 

The identity of families and students being assisted by RaiderPacks will be kept confidential.

Families don’t have to qualify for free or reduced lunches to receive food through RaiderPacks. Each student will receive a bag of food each week. Bags will include breakfast, lunch and snack options, including fruits and vegetables.

Food will be delivered and packed at Middletown Area High School on Tuesdays and distributed to families on Wednesdays. Milk and eggs will only be available to families who pick up their packs on Wednesdays.

Families will have an option to pick up their packs on Thursdays at each school, or the food can be sent home in a backpack with the students.

McLaughlin and Monroig hope to start distributing RaiderPacks full of food to families this month.

District tax dollars aren’t being used for the program, so raising money from the community is critical. RaiderPacks doesn’t want to feed needy students just one weekend, but every weekend.

“We have to be able to sustain this program for an entire year,” McLaughlin said. “The worst-case scenario would be starting something and then saying, ‘We’re out of money, sorry.’ We can’t let that happen, so we’ve got to be at a point where we have enough. It’s going to be a continuous fund-raising effort.”

Since presenting RaiderPacks to the school board on Aug. 28, the two teachers and their supporters have sent out close to 100 letters soliciting donations from businesses in the school district. That’s just a start.

“We would appreciate monetary donations from individuals as well as business to support our families. We will also be reaching out to community members to volunteer their time to pack the backpacks,” McLaughlin said.

Businesses and residents in the school district are always being hit up for money for a lot of different concerns.

The teachers know that, but they’ve seen first-hand what the Middletown community can do.

“Middletown has always supported Middletown,” McLaughlin said. “In 2011 when that flood came and wiped those families’ homes away and we went to Reid (Elementary School) and they did that big community drive at Reid — I worked that. That was amazing.”

“We want people to think of it as just the community coming together. We want all of us to be successful and to grow,” Monroig said. “Anytime there’s a fire or anything, the community comes together, so that’s why we need this to be a community project.”

RaiderPacks is partnering with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and with Middletown Area Blue Raider Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that raises money to support various school district programs and initiatives.

Backpack programs like RaiderPacks are already providing food over the weekends to more than 5,700 children throughout central Pennsylvania, according to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank website.

The food bank is partnering with 38 agencies to make this happen throughout the region, with 74 sites set up to distribute food to needy children, according to the website.

You can donate to RaiderPacks by writing a check to Middletown Area Blue Raider Foundation. Be sure to write  “RaiderPacks” in the memo section.

Checks can be mailed to Kunkel Elementary School c/o RaiderPacks at 2401 Fulling Mill Road, Middletown, PA, 17057. You can also drop off a check at district administration offices at 55 W. Water St. in Middletown, or at any district school building.

RaiderPacks says that a $3.52 donation can feed one student for one weekend, and a donation of about $124 is enough to feed one student every weekend for the rest of this school year.

To donate, get involved, or to learn more about RaiderPacks, email raiderpacks@raiderweb.org.