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Incoming Students Collaborate To Tackle Food Insecurity In Scranton School District

BY JON O'CONNELL, STAFF WRITERAugust 20, 2018

Beans and rice recipes show up in just about every culture. In Scranton, they’re tools for understanding hunger on a larger scale.

The Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine is bringing 220 incoming college students together on Thursday for an inaugural project, called 10,000 Meals. It is the first installment of the medical school’s Colleges Building Community endeavor.

The latest collaboration, led in part by Geisinger’s Springboard Healthy Scranton public health program, convenes students from the medical school, Keystone College and Lackawanna College to assemble 10,000 meal kits for needy pupils in the Scranton School District and their families. Students from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia also will participate.

Here For a Reason, a nonprofit in the city, began packaging meal kits in 2016, and distributes them to families in McNichols Educational Plaza, John Adams Elementary School and George Bancroft Elementary School. The organization is in talks to expand to other schools, Director Mike Hauser said.

It began as a mission of the Grove Church, Scranton, but now is a free-standing nonprofit. Through fundraising, volunteer staff buy the makings for meal kits at $1 per single-serving kit through the national organization Generosity Feeds.

Meal kits include a beans and rice recipe with seasonings that Hauser, also a Grove Church pastor, says has been designed for nutrition and tested on kids to get the flavor right.

The project puts a major social issue that the city faces directly in the hands of the incoming students, many from out of town.

Nearly all students, more than 82 percent, in the Scranton School District, come from low-income households, which means they are eligible for free or reduced lunch. That tells Hauser most probably often worry about how or when they’ll have their next meal, one definition of food insecurity.

Scott Koerwer, Ed.D., the medical school’s vice dean for graduate studies and vice president of strategy, planning and communication, has a problem with social service projects that “do something to” a community rather than “do something with” a community, he said.

That’s why a service project with an established organization, one that’s already tackling a widespread issue such as hunger makes sense — their effort makes a more lasting difference.

“Embedding students in the challenges faced by the community is a great first step in making them a part of the community,” he said.

The service project comes as Springboard nears the final stages of starting its Fresh Food Farmacy, a novel program that uses wholesome food to help treat people with diabetes who also struggle to buy food. The Farmacy is set to open in the Ice Box plaza at 3 W. Olive St. in Scranton early next year.

Here For a Reason has held other public meal kit assembly days, during which anyone can volunteer, in the past. It plans another on Saturday, Oct. 13.

Thursday’s event, geared for students, will be sprinkled with lessons on food insecurity issues germane to Scranton.

Springboard Director Brian Ebersole calls the meal kit program and this latest iteration one important step along the “food continuum,” or the path on which food travels through social service organizations to finally reach the families who need it most.

“We’re not interested in just doing one-off activities,” he said. “It really is: How do you start to build the blocks, and build that strong foundation so we can ... address food insecurity and optimize that food continuum that we currently have.”

Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9131;

@jon_oc on Twitter

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Help assemble meal kits

Volunteers must register for Here For a Reason’s next public meal kit assembly session on Saturday, Oct. 13, at Scranton High School. Space is limited. Visit to register.

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