Food Accessibility and Student Success: Relieving Food Insecurity for Berks County Students
Food insecurity presents a significant threat to Berks County students. Around 81% of children live in low-income households, and 13.6% go with little to no food each day. To help combat food insecurity and help students thrive at school and in the community, Communities in Schools of Eastern Pennsylvania offers a series of food access programs to ensure that no child goes hungry.
Unexpected events like job layoffs or medical emergencies force low-income families to decide between paying bills or buying groceries. Unfortunately for many, food often becomes a second priority, leaving children without nutritious foods that could support their growth and success. Providing accessible, healthy, and nutritious foods to students is key to their development and academic achievement. Without proper nutrition or “brain food,” children do not have enough energy to absorb lesson materials fully and are more susceptible to illness, low attendance, poor grades, and dropping out.
Luckily, CIS offers various food access programs for children and families experiencing food insecurity. Their food banks located throughout Berks County provide pantry boxes and bags filled with nutritionally dense foods, but it doesn’t stop there.
Partnering with Helping Harvest, an organization that provides food assistance in Berks County, CIS runs a snack program in local schools. The program took off in schools such as Southern Middle School, where 100% of students are entitled to free or reduced breakfasts, lunches, and supplemental snacks throughout the day. Students, families, and school staff have expressed their appreciation for the snack program, and because of its success, the snack program is here to stay at Southern Middle School. This resource has also been made available for students and families during extracurricular activities, club meetings, and family events like Family Fun Nights, Summer Festival, and March Madness.
CIS and Helping Harvest provide food-insecure children with a food bag every Friday through their Weekender Program. The project currently has 60 sites throughout Berks and Schuylkill Counties, which provide over 2,000 bags of food each week.
In-person events like Night At The Museum, where families view student artwork hung throughout the school, are making a comeback. These events give families a chance to spend time together in a safe and supportive environment and provide them with a hot meal, snacks, and access to additional resources.
Heading out into the community, CIS volunteers gather to participate in their Adopt-A-Block program, which works to reduce food insecurity rates for families with school-age kids and restore the beauty of local communities. Volunteers head into different neighborhoods throughout Berks county to pick up trash and deliver food and other basic necessities to families in need of assistance.
The food access programs provided by CIS and Healthy Harvest are already proving to be beneficial to the success of students of families struggling with food insecurity. As the programs continue to expand, CIS hopes to serve even more Berks county schools to ensure that all students have access to the healthy and nutritious foods they need to reach their full potential.