Students from Southside School pose for photo during field trip to Community Food Bank of San Benito County

Southside School’s seventh-grade class visited Community FoodBank Wednesday for a different kind of field trip.

After a brief tour of the food bank’s San Felipe Road building and operation, students in Wendy Abercrombie’s class fell to work, and in scarcely two hours packed 2,190 bags bound for local k-12 students.

“They were great,” said Maria Thomas, food bank’s CEO and tour guide for a day.  “They had the best answers when I asked who our typical customer is. One said ‘everyone’ and one even said ‘the financially challenged.’  They totally got it.”

The rationale for combining a walkthrough with some meaningful community volunteerism is to teach a lesson not easily taught in schools, and that’s the hard-to-define the true meaning of community.

“We do the (holiday) food drive every year and the kids have no idea where it goes,” teacher Abercrombie said. “By seventh grade they’re old enough to really understand.”

The braver students entered one of the food bank’s walk-in coolers to spend a few minutes chilling at 38 degrees.  They learned, not only who that “typical” customer is, but how many people came to the food bank at least once in 2018 (10,500) and how many pounds of groceries went out the doors last year (1 million pounds).

Abercrombie said that when a Four-H club she co-leads visited to volunteer during a marketplace day, they were struck by all the fresh produce available and what a broad slice of the community is served.

“I learned that you guys serve over 10,000 people and that’s completely awesome,” said student Kadence.  “It’s very helpful.”

“The food is great,” said Saul.  “We want to donate for people. I wouldn’t want to be starving all the time.”

Saul got to the very heart of what Community FoodBank calls its School Backpack Bag program.  Each year, school staffs in San Benito County are asked to identify students who may be among those experiencing chronic food insecurity.  It’s nearly a zero paperwork program. Teachers or the cafeteria staff identify the kids and give a number to the administrative staff who in turn deliver those numbers to Community FoodBank. Then the groceries start coming.

Each bag supplies a student with the equivalent of two breakfasts and two lunches to help bridge the weekend gap when school cafeterias are closed.  With some local schools reporting nearly all their students eligible for free and reduced cost breakfasts and lunches, the need is great.

Currently, 622 students per week are receiving the bags and demand just keeps growing.

Bonnie Conley is a parent volunteer who arrived with a weighty bag of groceries to donate.  “I’d never been here before,” she said. “It’s very clean. It’s very big. I think it was very organized.  I’m pretty impressed.”

FoodBank volunteer coordinator Juana Valdez was impressed, too, with the way the kids worked as a team and got a big job done. Without Wednesday’s experience, “I don’t think they would have known what the food bank does for the community.”

Mark Paxton is director of community engagement and fund development at Community FoodBank. In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors with his wife, Mary. They are the parents of two daughters and live in Hollister.

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