In our last post about thankfulness, we talked about some ideas for raising grateful kids, particularly in this season of bounty. One of our suggestions was to reach out to our awesome local Redding Food Pantry. We spoke with Redding’s Social Services Director, Angelica Fontanez to learn more about how kids can help and what she wants our RES community to know.
Right here in Redding, there are 46 households receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits, and many of the Redding Food Pantry clients receive this support. However, others do not. Keeping in mind that the pantry serves many who do get the SNAP benefit is important, though, because those benefits can’t be used for may household necessities like soap, household cleansers, dish washing liquid, laundry detergent, toothpaste, shampoo, paper towels, toilet paper, facial tissues, and much more. All those everyday non-food items that are so important to keeping our house and person clean and safe are not included. This makes them a very special and ongoing priority for our Redding Food Pantry. A great way to involve your RES student in thinking about this is to have them make a list (a picture list of a written list!) of all the things they use throughout the day to make themselves ready for school or to go to bed that aren’t food, then make that into your standard food pantry supply list.
Another exercise Ms. Fontanez encouraged our students to do is, observe the prep and cooking for their favorite meal. What kind of ingredients did we need to make it? Did we use oil? Spices? Salt? Aluminum foil? Those kinds of basic pantry staples are other consistent needs. The food pantry always needs cooking oils, spices and condiments, as well as basic household cooking items like foil or plastic bags. Often people donate the inexpensive box of pasta but don’t bring in pasta sauce or olive oil, for example, Even when it comes to boxed mac and cheese, food pantry clients need perishable dairy items to make it, so consider donating a store gift card so they can get the butter and milk (as well as fresh veggies, fruits, meats and fish that everyone enjoys!).
Kids might enjoy making a list of their favorite snacks — food pantry clients are just the same as every other person, in that they enjoy snacks and treats on occasion, and those who are food insecure may not have the chance to have many treats. Consider making one of your donation choices a winter treat like nice hot cocoa, cookies, tasty crackers, and fancy tea. Getting food from a food pantry can mean eating a lot of generic food that isn’t richly flavored. Encourage your children to choose items to donate that they would themselves like to receive. Ms. Fontanez suggested thinking of the donation as being like buying a snack for a friend to share — you want to get a truly nice, generous snack for your friend, not just try and buy the cheapest thing possible! Involving your RES student in the shopping process is a great way to get started.
For RES community members interested in doing something a little different, Ms. Fontanez suggested making a monetary donation to Redding Shares the Warmth, a program that gives financial assistance to Redding households for electric and oil bills. While there are federal and state programs to help with these bills as well, they have a lengthy and elaborate approval process, and this can bridge that gap. It can also cover those who do not qualify or who have a short-term emergency need. The applicants for this program rose dramatically last year (from an average of 24 households to 37) and that trend may continue this year, so you can help your Redding neighbors stay warm by writing a check, made payable to the Town of Redding, with a note on the memo line saying, “RSW.” It can be dropped off at the Community Center with Ms. Fontanez, or mailed to PO Box 118, Redding, CT 06875.
Is your kid excited to share his gratitude and help people locally? What about helping your child organize a NEIGHBORHOOD FOOD DRIVE? While Redding has notoriously unwalkable neighborhoods (as we all remember at Halloween time!), why not ask a few neighbors near you to do a mini-food drive for the Redding Food Pantry? Your RES student could explain the problem of hunger to your neighbors on a personal level and ask for donations. After collecting items, your child then could organize the donations that are received. It’s important to check expiration dates — Ms. Fontanez mentioned that they often get donations that have expired items that can’t be consumed, and your child could be a real help by weeding these items out for disposal and recycling. The final step would be organizing the items by food type, turning cash donations into grocery store gift cards and bringing it all in to the Community Center during business hours Monday through Thursday, or before noon on Fridays.
So if you’re thankful for all you have this year, help your child see that in action with our Redding Food Pantry.
Here’s a great article from a food bank director talking about how kids can help, if you’d like to read more!
The last, but definitely not least, element of the work the RES PTA does is service. We have committed to give generously to those in need, and we know that our kids are leaning compassion and empathy from working side-by-side with us. We strive to involve kids in our programs. As our service volunteers ramp up for the rest of the school year — having completed another great year gathering school supplies for the Back to School drive we sponsor in the late summer — look for information on our Turkey Drive, giving tree and pajama drive. Kids love participating in choosing items for these drives — some families make it a special tradition to donate together. Last year, we took my kids out to find the coolest pajamas we could, then went to a diner for dinner-for-breakfast, and we chose a family bedtime story about helping others. It was a special evening of togetherness, talking about the importance of sharing what we have, and the kids are looking forward to another year of doing the same.
The PTA is glad to encourage our kids, our families and our wider school community to think about charity and service. Your membership in our PTA helps make it possible! Still need to join? Sign up here, using the code REDDINGELEMENTARY. If membership isn’t for you, consider signing up to receive our emails and updates using the same link.