Dec. 18, 2018 | Stephanie Trombley
AGAWAM – When school is in session, it is easier to guarantee that all students in Agawam have the ability to eat lunch. But when students are on a break from school, what affect does that have on their mealtime? The Agawam Lions are seeking to ensure that students who qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year receive the meals essential to healthy well-being and growth, even when school is not in session.
Lori Mountain, first vice president of the Agawam Lions Club, explained how the initiative, called Vacation Vittles, came to begin. “One of the main focuses of the Lions is hunger. We were looking in our own community to see what we could do. Gilbert [Fortunato] and I reached out to the Mayor, who thought the greatest need was in the schools. The Superintendent also felt that there was a need.”
Mountain continued, explaining, “Over 1,300, or 30% of students in Agawam are on free or reduced meals. During school, they give access to breakfast and lunch. But when they have school vacation, there is a need. We were trying to find something we could do through the school.”
With this in mind, the Agawam Lions teamed up with Bethany Assembly of God and St. David’s Episcopal Church in support of school-aged children. After discussing Vacation Vittles with Executive Pastor Reverend Tim Reed of Bethany Assembly of God, the church agreed to help. Mountain shared, “This all snowballed. Everyone seems to be jumping on board. We are hoping that it will be a successful initiative.”
The Agawam Lions will provide funds to Bethany Assembly of God to purchase food from the Western Mass Food Bank. Proceeds raised from the Jack Conroy Memorial Golf Tournament will fund the initiative. Conroy was a beloved member of the Agawam Lions and passed away in early 2018.
Mountain shared, “Jack and his family wanted the proceeds to go to a scholarship for kids going into trade school, but they also struggled with many kids. This is very important to the family.”
Food will be distributed to families at the St. David’s Episcopal Church in Feeding Hills. As of current, this will be the only distribution area.
Communications regarding Vacation Vittles will be sent home with all students shortly before summer vacation, so as not to single out those students who qualify. There will be one bag available per child weekly, meaning if there is more than one student in a family, each student will qualify for their own bag. Vacation Vittles assistance is available to children currently qualified for free or reduced lunch.
The bags will include nonperishable items such as peanut butter, tuna and macaroni and cheese.
Mountain explained that many existing hunger initiatives focus on the homeless population rather than families who may be struggling to make ends meet. “For those who need emergency groceries, they only have access to that assistance once a month. Other initiatives focus more on the homeless.”
The Agawam Lions will also be present at the upcoming Agawam Winter Celebration on Dec. 21 to spread the word about Vacation Vittles. The organization will also be handing out hot chocolate.
Mountain feels that Vacation Vittles will provide much needed assistance where there is currently a gap. “I feel it’s important because our focus should be on kids in this town. Sometimes, that’s missing. It’s shocking that 1 out of every 3 kids has struggled with food. When you think about it, they are on two months of summer vacation. Why haven’t we thought about this before? I think we can make their lives easier and make sure they’re not hungry so they can focus in and out of school. It’s easy for students to fall into that situation.”
She continued, sharing, “I’m so excited to see how it goes. I hope on day one we get an influx of families.”
Monetary donations are welcome and can be made payable to the Agawam Lions Foundation and sent to Agawam Lions Club, c/o Vacation Vittles, P.O. Box 52, Agawam, MA 01001. Donations of food can be delivered to Bethany Assembly of God.