St. Lawrence students volunteer preparing lunches for the Bear Packs initiative.

Campus Kitchens Combats Food Insecurity

Sydney Fallone ’17

Hunger in the North Country is a persistent problem. For this reason during each school year, the Campus Kitchens Bear Packs program works to ensure that Canton Central’s F. S. Banford Elementary School students are well fed after the final bell rings on Friday afternoons. 

Campus Kitchens, a national organization that also provides a weekly three-course meal to members of the community, has become a vitally important service for greater Canton by aiming to meet the social and nutritional needs of adults, families, and children living in the area. Fresh food donations from campus eateries and local farms have sustained the chapter’s initiatives since the organization began at St. Lawrence in 2010. 

Over the past two years, the initiative has expanded to include the Bear Packs program. Recent graduate Roger Brandt ’17 was the 2016-17 co-president of Campus Kitchens. He says, “We began to supplement the elementary school’s Bear Packs program (named for the mascot, the Canton Golden Bears) which provides healthy, nutritional meal and snack options for families facing food insecurity.” 

“Each Campus Kitchens chapter cooks a weekly meal, but supporting Bear Packs is our own initiative,” adds Jack Lyons ’17, last year’s other co-president. 

According to Ashlee Downing, St. Lawrence’s coordinator of volunteer services, the Bear Packs program was started at the school five years ago. “Sean Morrissey ’16 volunteered with the elementary school, had a passion for education, and was involved with Campus Kitchens,” Downing says. “He encouraged the organization to get involved with the local youth populations, considering youths are a demographic that struggles with food insecurity.” 

After assessing the program’s needs, Campus Kitchens began to supplement Canton Bear Packs to ensure that children were not going hungry. “Last year, 70 families participated,” Downing says. “During this current academic year, 85 elementary and middle school families are participating in the program, which shows that more families are comfortable asking for help.”

According to Downing, Bear Packs are prepared by St. Lawrence students on Wednesday evenings in Eben Holden and are transported to the school on Thursday afternoons. Each pack consist of two nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner items to get students through the weekend. 

“What’s nice about the program,” Lyons says, “is that Canton teachers place Bear Packs in students backpacks when the children are on lunch or recess so that nobody knows who’s getting them except the individuals running the program.”

In addition to food donations, the Bear Packs program has been financially sustained by a CoBank grant. “Our Campus Kitchens chapter was sought out by the bank due to our rural location,” Lyons says. “After applying for their grants, we have received $5,000 our first year and $3,000 over the past year.” 

Canton Guidance Counselor Kelley Glasgow, who coordinates the Bear Packs program, adds, “The Bear Packs program is a community effort. It’s local organizations like Campus Kitchens that make it possible for us to make a difference in the lives of nearly 90 families each week.”

To build upon the impact Campus Kitchens has had on the community, the organization is beginning to discuss how they can expand their influence. “The Bear Packs are currently only delivered to Banford Elementary School,” Downing says. “Our long-term goal is to determine whether there are children in need at St. Mary’s, Little River School, and Head Start, so that we can broaden our reach beyond the Canton School District.”