The West Hartford-based Fern Street Food Pantry is helping spread the message about food security throughout the community – even to its youngest residents.
By Ronni Newton
The Fern Street Food Pantry provides service to the community in many ways – not only stocking and regularly distributing food from its own pantry but also hosting the Connecticut Foodshare mobile pantry and operating a backpack program to assist West Hartford students and their families on the weekends and school breaks – and continues to look for new ways to raise awareness and understanding about food insecurity.
Carol Oriol-Jones, a co-leader at the pantry – which is a program of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, located at 433 Fern Street – has been busy visiting Braeburn School as a guest reader to help spread that message.
“I wanted to be a guest reader in schools because I am a retired elementary school teacher and I miss the children and teaching,” Oriol-Jones said. “I am also very passionate about promoting an understanding about food insecurity. Reading to children is the perfect way to teach about food insecurity and bring more awareness to how some families are struggling in our town and neighboring towns.”
Recently she read the book “Saturday At the Food Pantry” by Diane O’Neil, to five classes at Braeburn. She said she chose that book because it shares the message about the reality of food insecurity in a beautiful, heartwarming, and sensitive way.
Oriol-Jones said in Connecticut alone, there are more than 490,000 residents who are hungry or food insecure, including more than 139,000 children.
As she read, Oriol-Jones said she allowed for many opportunities to pause and talk with the students about what a food pantry is and also who might visit a pantry and why.
“Often children do not realize that there are many reasons why someone might join a pantry,” she said. “Some older members are unable to work. Others are unable to afford rent, gas, heating, costly medicines and adequate, healthy food, even if they have a job, or even two jobs. As it says many times in the book: ‘Everybody needs help sometimes.'”
After reading to each classroom, Oriol-Jones said she talked with the children about it being okay to ask for help, as well as to give help when it’s needed. She told the students that a food pantry is just one way to help others, and asked the students to think about how they might be helpful every day.
Braeburn third grade students who were interested in starting an art club had approached Interim Principal Kim Ambroise to be the leader of the club they formed – the “Smiles Givers Club.” Club members began to write get-well cards for hospitals during their lunch hours.
In “Saturday At the Food Pantry,” the main character and her friend draw pictures to give to the people visiting and working at the food pantry.
Oriol-Jones had already reached out to Ambroise to set up the book readings and they then collaborated to invite the Smiles Givers Club at Braeburn to do something similar to the characters in the book – create blank greeting cards for the food pantry which will be given to pantry members as well as used for thank-you notes to those who donate.
“The students were wonderful and so excited to help. They have so many ideas. I can’t wait to see all the cards,” Oriol-Jones said.
At Celebrate! West Hartford on June 10 and 11, the Fern Street Food Pantry will have a booth where visitors can pick up a beautiful hand-made greeting card, and learn more about the pantry and the other food programs of the Fern Street Food Ministry. There will also be give-aways.
Oriol-Jones said the Fern Street Food Ministry has five programs – a backpack program servicing West Hartford schools, a food truck, breakfast program and sandwich program – all of which have been growing as more people need help.
Oriol-Jones is hopeful that after reading to the Braeburn students, they “will all have a better understanding of why people do need a little help sometimes.”
For more information, or to make a donation, email foodministry@westhartforduu.
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