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Logan Elementary School teachers Angela Turkowski and Jennifer Kolodychak volunteer to help during the Wednesday Fueling Future Wildcats food bag assembly. (Kristen Keleschenyi photo for Tube City Almanac)
Reading, writing and arithmetic. These are the cornerstones of elementary school learning. But in some cases, there is another component needed: Food.
At Logan Elementary School, in the East Allegheny School District, a program called Fueling Future Wildcats helps fill a need that can oftentimes go unnoticed.
“There are some kids that are almost flying under the radar, because they come to school looking like they are doing OK, but we never really know if the family is really struggling,” says program coordinator Kaitlyn Gida.
Fueling Future Wildcats was started by Kayla McCormley, a Logan PTO mom who applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the Allegheny County Medical Society Foundation. Originally, the grant was written to provide 50 students with weekend meals during the school year for three years. That number has stretched to 130.
Gida, a special education teacher at Logan, took over the program during the 2019-2020 school year.
When the program was introduced, families suspected of needing some assistance, received a letter about the program and could opt out of it if they chose to.
Gida says they have since eliminated the letters and now, students who receive the weekend food bags are recommended by their teacher. Over the years only a handful of families have asked to be removed from the program.
“We use black bags because we don't want other kids to see what is in it in case some of the kids are self-conscious about receiving the extra help for their family. So, it’s not obvious,” says Gida.
The bags contain two meals for Saturday and Sunday plus a snack. Gida is a frugal shopper and does price comparisons between stores to keep within budget. The coordinators have realized many kids are cooking for themselves over the weekend so they pack items that are easy to open, have pop tabs and are kid-friendly.
While veggies and bread would help a family, ramen, fruit bars and cans of Chef Boyardee are more likely to be eaten. Ramen can be made in the microwave and the ravioli can be eaten out of the can if necessary.
Local churches including Linway United Presbyterian and St. John’s Lutheran have helped support the Logan food program and this year, Fueling Future Wildcats partnered with the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.
The food bank gave the school a $500 grant and has allowed Gida to purchase items beyond the non-perishables.
Co-coordinator and Logan teacher Danielle Thomas says, “We’ve gotten a lot of shelf stable things like TrueMoo milk, yogurt and cheese sticks. All of these things are shelf stable — you don’t have to refrigerate anything.”
Thomas adds, “We actually taste tested each item to make sure it was something they would like.”
One third of Kathy Weaver’s third grade class receives a Friday food bag. These bags are assembled by school staff and student volunteers. Weaver spoke with the school counselor to see if there is any information about a student indicating they might need assistance. Weaver also says, “I also watch their clothes, if they’re stained or too small or if they’re too big. I watch that as well.”
The grant for Fueling Future Wildcats runs out at the end of this school year. Gida and Thomas have been able to bank some money during the pandemic when FFW was put on hold because other school food programs were working overtime to make sure meals were getting out.
But as the number of students needing assistance is increasing, organizers are hoping to get another grant or some community support to allow them to continue. They need to find another funding source. This program has become a unique way for families to get help without swallowing their pride.
Weaver says. “It’s one more lifeline for them. It’s one more help to get through the weekend. They might be short on pay that week and this is just a little bit more to help without having to ask for it.”
Kristen Keleschenyi is a freelance writer in North Versailles Twp. and one of the hosts of the Kristen & Amber Show on Tube City Online Radio at 5 p.m. Saturdays, 9 p.m. Mondays and 4 p.m. Thursdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published May 31, 2022.