“What does it feel like to be hungry?,” asked Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of the food bank Island Harvest, to a gymnasium filled with 300 students from Lynbrook North and South middle schools.
“Your stomach feels empty and really hurts,” answered Vincent Kelleher, 12, a seventh-grader at Lynbrook North, where the event was held. “If I didn’t have any food I wouldn’t have the energy to play sports and I might get dizzy,” he added.
It’s an often-overlooked issue that faces a vast number children on Long Island, Dresner explained, and she challenged the students to participate in a three-week food drive challenge that will put the two middle schools against each other. The award: the pride in knowing they provided a valuable service.
The program was established after Stop & Shop announced a three-year initiative to distribute $6 million to 14 regional food banks, including Island Harvest and Long Island Cares.
Island Harvest will receive $75,000 per year for the next three years to provide fresh produce and nutrition education to child agencies. Long Island Cares will receive $125,000 per year to expand its after-school food and mentoring program.
Dresner said it’s great to have the opportunity to visit schools and talk to students about hunger in their neighborhoods.
“There are about 110,000 children on Long Island who know hunger firsthand and the first way to get to the problem is educating people about it,” Dresner said. “It’s important to get to kids to let them know the problem exists and they can do something about it.”
Robert Hempson, a Stop & Shop district director who was at the event Thursday, said the company is dedicated to fighting hunger and the first step is educating the younger generations.
“In Nassau and Suffolk counties, it’s hard to believe that one in nine folks are food-deprived,” he said. “To raise awareness it starts with letting children and their families know what they can do to help their struggling neighbors.”
Sean Fallon, the principal at Lynbrook North, said it’s important for students to be exposed to the harsh statistics, and the competition is great motivation.
“And it’s important for them to see that we shouldn’t just hold food drives around the holidays. Families are hungry year-round,” said Fallon, 41, of Floral Park.
Matthew Renz, 12, a seventh-grader at Lynbrook North, said he was inspired to participate in the challenge.
“Hunger is everywhere and it has only gotten worse,” Matthew said. “I’m gonna come in every day with a can of food and try to help.”
Another student, Sydney Teramo, who is in seventh-grade at Lynbrook North, said she would start first-thing the next morning.
“Feeding the hungry is important because if we were in the same position, we would want to to be taken care of,” said Sydney, 12 of Lynbrook. “I’m starting tomorrow.”