The United Way of Central Maryland gives out backpacks and school supplies at Taneytown Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.
Nine-year-old Chloe Poole sat with her brother, 4-year-old MJ Frazier, in the Taneytown Elementary School cafeteria less than two weeks before the school year was to begin.
Each chowed down on lunch — a sandwich for Chloe, chicken nuggets for MJ, his personal favorite. They alternated between the meals and taking sips of chocolate milk.
It’s the first time the pair have come to Taneytown Elementary School for free lunch this summer, mom Melissa Frazier said.
What brought the family out Wednesday was the opportunity to pick up new backpacks freshly stocked with supplies, courtesy of the United Way of Central Maryland, as well as the chance to bring home 30 pounds of food — much of which was fresh produce — from the Maryland Food Bank.
“I think it helps a lot of families. I’m very thankful for it,” Frazier said of the event, adding that the kids were excited to grab school supplies.
She also said they would be taking home produce, because the kids love fresh fruits and vegetables.
That portion of the event is called a Heart Market, Taneytown Elementary School Counselor Cindy Hess said. It’s a new program through the food bank — the school did one back in the spring and has two planned for the fall. Hess said they planned for 125 families to come in and get food.
“It’s a really cool new outreach they just started,” she said of the Maryland Food Bank, adding that she wanted to bring multiple services to one stop to help families. “I thought the more we had available for our families, the better it would be.”
After lunch, Chloe and MJ hopped up to pick out backpacks — a black one for Chloe, a blue one with sharks for MJ.
Frazier said having all of the supplies, a lunch and food from the food bank in one place was a great idea.
“Everything is here. I saw a lot of people walking here, so it’s obviously convenient for people,” she added.
Julia Smith, with Operations and Organizational Development at the United Way of Central Maryland, said backpacks and supplies came through donations, and volunteers spent the morning stuffing them with supplies.
“It makes [the kids] feel better about how they approach the school year. To be able to walk into school with a backpack, fresh school supplies — they’re going to feel more attentive and engaged because they feel valued and they feel like they can be a part of the program and focus more on education,” Smith said.
Wednesday’s event — the first through the United Way at Taneytown Elementary School — is an extension of attempts to bring more wrap-around services into the Title I school.
This year, Hess said, the school will have a full-time Family Stability Program, which has been part-time at the school for the past two years. The program is in partnership with the United Way, which tackles the funding, as well as the Human Services Program of Carroll County.
Smith said they chose to partner with HSP because of their housing help, workforce development and overall case management.
“Our Family Stability Program provides wraparound services,” she said. “We work with the school to identify some kids that are struggling, and then the individual from HSP, through support and funding from our program is here, and that individual can counsel and work with the student, and also expand and meet with the family to see what’s happening with the family and help them get these specific services.”
“Sometimes a family will come to me and share that they’re being evicted or they don’t have money for their rent ... and I’ll refer it to her and she’ll work with HSP to see if they’re eligible,” she said.
So far, Hess said, the school, in partnership with the United Way and HSP, have been able to help numerous families stay in their homes.
For most, she said, the fact that this assistance exists is unexpected. It’s what makes having these services and partnerships through the school so important, she said, because a lot of people know to come to the school when they’re in need.