Woman's Club of Laurel is taming hungry tummies

The Woman's Club is taming hungry tummies

More than 450 of the 682 students at Scotchtown Hills Elementary School are eligible to receive free and reduced-priced meals during the school day because their families earn less than federal poverty thresholds.

But what do these students eat on the weekend when they are not in school?

The Woman's Club of Laurel is helping to answer this question for 20 students by filling their backpacks with breakfast, lunch and snack foods at the end of each school week.

The club started Tummy Tamers this fall after its members "looked and saw what the needs are and who could use our help," said Kathy Hanns, the club's first vice president. "We decided that there are many services like this Tummy Tamers project in other counties, like Montgomery County, but there wasn't anything like it here in Laurel."

The Manna Food Center, an organization working to end hunger in Montgomery County, provides weekend food bags to hungry students in 60 elementary schools there. Blessings in a Backpack of Howard County does the same at five elementary schools in Columbia.

"What we're doing is targeting a small population as a pilot program," Hanns said about Tummy Tamers. "It's barely the tip of the iceberg."

Scotchtown Hills staff members, including the school's guidance counselor, select 20 low-income students at the school to participate in the program, based on who needs the food the most. These students are sent home with enough food for two breakfasts, two lunches and snacks to tide them over until Monday.

"It is wonderful," Hanns said. "But there are hundreds and hundreds of children just in Laurel that could benefit from this. What about the rest of them?"

In order to be eligible for free and reduced-price meals in a school, a student's family income must be lower than 185 percent of federal poverty standards, which vary according to household size and location. To participate in the program during the current school year, a family of four in Prince George's County must earn less than $44,863 a year.

Hanns said that the club would like to expand the program to another school next year, but that this growth hinges on the amount of funding the group raises.

Purchasing food for the students that is both nutritious and kid-friendly costs about $150 each week and $6,000 a year; right now, a lot of members are buying the groceries themselves, Hanns said.

"We're working on fundraising activities — applying for a couple of grants and writing letters to businesses in the community," she said. "We've gotten a little bit of money. It's not enough yet, but it's a start."

Positive response

Tummy Tamers does not only require monetary contributions — the program requires a lot of womanpower as well, both to purchase the groceries and to pack them.

Every Wednesday evening in the back room of the group's clubhouse on Main Street, three or four volunteers separate cans of beans and tomatoes from mini boxes of cereal, granola bars, spice packets and all kinds of non-perishable foods. The club's membership is split into six teams that rotate packing duties each week.

After sorting through the cans and boxes and placing them on a table in tidy rows, the team groups the food items into breakfast, lunch and snack piles and counts each item repeatedly to ensure that there are 20 of each — that way each student gets the same amount and types of food.

"We have 20 mac and cheeses here," said Eva Ashe, while sorting through the boxes and cans last week. "And we're giving them two pieces of fruit this week."

The weekend bags always include a fruit product, like fruit snacks or applesauce, but fresh fruit is a special treat.

After everything is sorted, the women divvy the food items up between 20 bags, which are delivered to Scotchtown Hills Elementary School the following day.

Hanns said that the club tries to keep food items light, so that the bags are not too heavy for the kids to carry. If students have a three-day weekend or holiday break, volunteers pack extra food and deliver the bags a day or two earlier to the school, said club member Linda Hamill, adding that school staff members give the food to students.

"We do not know who the students are," Hamill said, explaining that anonymity is used to avoid embarrassing students.

Even though the Woman's Club cannot get feedback directly from the program's beneficiaries, Hanns said that the school staff has responded positively.

And club members are rallying around the cause.

"A lot of the women are wanting to do it, wanting to help," Hanns said about her fellow club members. "They want to shop, want to pack — they want to help in whatever way."

For more information or to make a contribution to Tummy Tamers, contact Hanns at sweetbabo2@aol.com

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