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Roughly two out of five students in a Red Lion classroom are in poverty. The poverty rate in the Red Lion Area School District has continuously increased and hit an all time high of 43% this year. In order to combat this growing number, a local food pantry both educates and serves nearly 350 families from Red Lion and also Dallastown and Eastern York school districts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, local poverty rates have increased, and more families turn to Community REACH for financial assistance, life skills training, and food and clothing distribution. “It’s definitely increased. I’d say at least 25%,” Executive Director Mrs. JoEllyn Hynson said. ”Every month the numbers keep increasing.”
Despite the growing poverty rates within the district, the Community Kids Food for Home Program is seeing a decrease in number of families registered. “We’re serving about 25 kids, but usually only about 10 families,” Red Lion Area School District Social Worker Mrs. Brandy Shealer said, “Before, we were serving hundreds of kids.”
The decrease in families that are registered could be due to the availability of food during the pandemic., “Even students who weren’t on free and reduced lunch are now getting free lunches and free breakfasts.” Mrs. Shealer said.
The intent behind this program was to make sure that all students got enough food to eat while they are not in school. “For the sake of argument, say we typically have 6,000 students,” Mrs. Shealer said. ”If you think that 40% of that 6,000 are actually in poverty, think how many students we should be serving in this program and we’re not.”
Families that need to sign up for the program should contact Brandy Shealer or Stacy Strausbaugh directly. Starting in April, all new families can also go directly to the Community REACH website. Anyone that contacts one of these people and is already on free and reduced lunch in Skyward is added to the program.
In the past few years, there have been many changes to the Community Kids Food for Home Program. “We decided to change the way that we distribute the food and have the parents pick it up,” Mrs. Shealer said, ”so that we could provide larger sizes, and more foods that the families could actually use.”
Parents that are a part of the program have responded positively to this change. “We’ve gotten good feedback from the families that have utilized it,” Mrs. Shealer said. “They were very surprised because we kept telling them, ‘don’t leave yet, we have another box.’”
According to Mrs. Shealer, JoEllyn Hynson at Community REACH helped to supply families with a healthier variety of foods. “We’re very fortunate to have such a wonderful partner in Community REACH,” said Mrs. Shealer.
At Community REACH, Mrs. Hynson organizes education classes, oversees the pantry, orders the food, gets donations, and targets employees. She is also very excited about starting a baby club where families within the community can access resources for their young children.
Community REACH serves more than food. They also offer life skills training classes to the public without needing to be a client. “We have people from Penn State come and teach classes and things like that,” Mrs. Hynson said.
The food pantry’s kitchen was remodeled for cooking classes before the pandemic. However, in person classes are not being held in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “Now, we’re just trying to pick up the pieces and do what we can online,” Mrs. Hynson said.
This is not the only difference at Community REACH because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I guess the biggest change is our families are no longer allowed in the pantry,” Mrs. Hynson said. “When the family comes to the door to get the food, we push the card out and they load it up.”
To register for the food pantry and schedule a time to pick up food, visit https://www.commreach.org/ and click on the Community REACH logo. Any volunteers that are interested in helping the pantry can find more information here.
In addition to volunteers, anyone can donate directly to Community REACH. They are looking for baby items, new or dry cleaned clothing items, and food for the Community Kids Food for Home Program.
The pantry is looking for foods like cereals, pastas, spaghetti sauces, peanut butter, jelly, applesauce, and fruit snack packs. However, Mrs. Shealer said that money is the best way to donate to the program. “You and I might be able to take $1 and get a sale at the grocery store for like two cans,” Mrs. Shealer said, “but Community REACH can access the food banks and they may be able to get 10 cans for $1.”
The goal of Community Reach is to distribute food, resources, and advocacy within the Red Lion, Dallastown, and Eastern area. “This is where you need to be putting in your efforts because they are directly in our backyard. They’re in our borough,” Mrs. Shealer said. “They’re serving our community, and we need to make sure that we support them.”