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Middle school looks after its own

The Baltimore Sun

Teachers at Corkran Middle School have found that it isn't hard to pick up which students are hungry. They squirm and act out as lunchtime nears. They fall asleep during class. They say they long to be at school when others count the days to holiday breaks.

Sometimes the students come right out and just ask for food, said Pamela Fowler, a teacher at the Glen Burnie school.

Her brother, Norman Evans, was troubled by her stories of teachers bringing in snacks for children whose parents didn't quite meet requirements for federally subsidized meals.

So Evans, a jazz musician and former social worker, started a nonprofit last fall to cover breakfasts and lunches for Corkran students who fall through the cracks and stock a school food bank for their families. In the foundation's first year, seven children received free daily meals from the school, and the pantry fed 33 families.

"You can't have kids performing adequately ... if their needs aren't being met," Evans said. "If you can't do this, then how can you expect to achieve anything else?"

A key part of the project is ensuring that families do not feel ashamed in asking for help, he said.

On Wednesday, students brought in food to Fowler's classroom to restock the food bank, and families came to pick up food after school so they could remain anonymous. Only Evans and Fowler passed out the food, so that not even other teachers are aware of which families actually sought help.

For the breakfast and lunch program, monetary donations are put directly onto needy children's lunch cards so they are unaware they are getting assistance. Only their parents know, Fowler said.

"I've found the parents, a lot of them are ashamed," Fowler said. "We try very hard to remove that and show them that this is something to take advantage of."

Evans and Fowler were two of seven children raised by a single mother in Danbury, Conn. His family sought help from food banks to survive. He worked as a social worker with youth services and drug-free programs in Connecticut until he got burnt out and decided to move to Maryland and become a full-time jazz musician. He plays saxophone and keyboards and found some radio play for his compact discs, but he still felt a need to get involved with the community.

Evans came to Abundant Life Church in Glen Burnie, which has been helping to beautify schools in the county by painting murals, doing landscaping and renovating teachers' lounges, and auditioned for one of the pastors. He played the church's baby grand piano, said Liz Wagner, executive director of the church's community outreach.

"It was awesome," she said. "He's got incredible talent."

This month, Evans will hold his second annual concert at Abundant Life Church to raise money for the foundation. Last year the concert raised $1,700. Evans also received $7,000 in donations from area businesses and received $500 from the Maryland Food Bank to set up the school pantry.

The Bank of Glen Burnie provided Evans with financial advice and donated $500 to the cause, said Yvonne Atkinson, the Community Reinvestment Act officer for the bank. She became a board member of the Journey Foundation.

"We just think this is filling a great need for the kids," Atkinson said.

While Wagner would like to see the foundation help other schools, saying the food project is just a natural extension of what the church already has been doing, Evans said he wants to make sure that the Corkran program is well established first.

The number of low-income students attending Corkran has increased over the past few years, said Debbie Montgomery, the school's principal. About 29 percent of the 720 students qualify for the reduced-cost meals at school.

She said she is not sure what is driving the increase, but it is critical for students to be able to study without fighting hunger pangs.

"We just know all of the research we get speaks to the importance of having breakfast and a substantial lunch to help fuel the brain fire," Montgomery said.

The Seeds of Unity concert will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. April 27 at Abundant Life Church in Glen Burnie. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children younger than 14. Information: Pamela Fowler, 443-618-7417.

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