Citing last year's success, volunteers in Bexley are once again providing free groceries for breakfast and lunch to about 20 families this summer.
Last year's 10-week program not only provided food to families in need over the summer months, but during school breaks as well.
Mike Denison, a member of Bexley's board of education and one of the Bexley Food Assistance Program's organizers, has been a vocal champion of those in need in Bexley.
"It's something I feel strongly about," he said as the summer program launched last week. "Each one (of the board members) has his or her own interests, and this is one of mine."
Denison continuously focuses on students who might not be able to afford to attend a field trip or other outing, or on those who do not have Internet accessibility at home, for example. Throughout his tenure as board member, he has explored ways to provide for those who might be struggling in Bexley, and continues to raise the subject at monthly board meetings.
Nationally, some 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches -- a benchmark for low-income percentages within American schools. In Bexley, that number has hovered around 12 percent in years past.
Denison applauded both the city and the district for taking a closer look at struggling families in Bexley.
"The social and emotional well-being of our students is important in our school district," he said, citing the recent hiring of Kimberly Brazwell, the district's new student and community support specialist. Brazwell is working to further develop programs that help students overcome non-academic barriers to learning while strengthening the social and emotional environment of the student community.
Working with school-based administrators and counselors throughout Bexley, the program's organizers identified between 19 and 22 families in need this year, to include the middle and high school as well. Volunteers get together on Fridays to bag breakfast and lunch items, such as fresh fruit, carrots, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese, turkey, and milk and juice, in grocery bags for each family.
The items in each bag are meant to feed the children breakfast and lunch for an entire week.
Members of the Developmental Assets Resource Network then deliver the food to each home every Friday. According to Denison, door-to-door delivery is an important component of the program.
Denison stressed that the effort is definitely collaborative. Funding is being provided by the Bexley Community Foundation, DARN, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Headbands for Hunger, a community group which makes and sells headbands in the pursuit of ending hunger.
Collaborating partners include the Bexley Farmers' Market, which donates fresh food items; the district's Health and Wellness Committee, which provides healthy snacks including locally grown eggs; the Bexley Public Library, which is donating summer reading materials; and the Cassingham PTO, which is contributing more than 100 books collected this summer.
"Bexley is extremely resourceful," Denison said. "No one should ever suffer from hunger."
Over the next few years, Denison said organizers hope to reach out to 30 families each year. By year five of the program, he hopes to serve some 50 percent of Bexley's families in need.