The dedicated volunteers in Shippensburg have not slowed down during the global coronavirus pandemic.

They have been tirelessly working to make sure those in need are getting everything they need to thrive.

The Hound Packs Program of the Shippensburg Area School District is no different. The program, partly funded through the Partnership for Better Health and WellSpan Health, is organized by many entities, including the Shippensburg Community Resource Coalition (SCRC), SU AmeriCorps VISTA and a host of volunteers. The program provides meals for Shippensburg Area School District children in need over the weekend. The school district is now providing free meals for students every Tuesday and Friday to help minimize contact during the stay-at-home order that has been extended to May 8. Students’ families are given meals for three days on Tuesdays and for two days on Fridays. Meals are distributed from 8 to 11 a.m. Tuesday and Friday, outside of James Burd Elementary and Shippensburg Area Senior High School.

Sonja Payne, community health mobilizer with SCRC, answered some questions regarding the program recently: 

How many families is the program serving now and how has it grown since the pandemic?

We have 148 children enrolled in Hound Packs. Eighty-five of those children were receiving Hound Packs prior to the pandemic and 63 are new participants. We continue to receive new enrollees every month. We have also opened the program up to include children that are in Head Start or are non-school age. Since the meals were distributed at the schools, students that were homeschooled or practicing in Cyber School did not receive Hound Packs unless they had a sibling in public school that could bring their food bag home with them. These students are now able to participate in Hound Packs, too.

How many volunteers are working to get the meals together?

Our volunteer “list” has changed since social distancing and the stay-at-home orders were given, but 17-20 volunteers are currently running the program. Richard and Beverly Shumway, community members and members of Shippensburg First Church of God, and Caulene Rogers, director of Children’s Ministries at Shippensburg First Church of God, are our community coordinators. They have a small group of volunteers that assist them with packing the bags every week. However, only Richard and Beverly purchase the food for the bags at Central PA Food Bank and local grocery stores on their own. They also deliver the bags on Fridays to the Shippensburg Area Senior High School and James Burd Elementary on Thursdays. Angie McKee, a Shippensburg Area Middle School Counselor is the school coordinator of Hound Packs. She receives the enrollment information, keeps track of any allergies, and how many bags go weekly to each school. On Friday, there is a team of 12 counselors, social workers, interns, and community members that deliver the food bags and the school district’s free breakfast and lunch to families that do not have any transportation. Janelle Carbaugh, the district social worker, organizes the deliveries for families. When a request comes in that a family needs their food delivered, Janelle contacts the family and then assigns them to one of the volunteers. Myself and Josh Stromberg, AmeriCorps VISTA, provide remote assistance in following the stay-at-home order. As Hound Packs is a program of SCRC, I have taken the role of program coordinator and collaborate with all the different working parts to ensure efficiency.

What items do the students receive in their meals?

They receive 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 3 dinners, plus 1-2 snacks. Some of the food items are canned items like soups, stews, tuna, ravioli, rice, macaroni and cheese, oatmeal packets, individual cereal boxes/bowls, granola/snack bars, peanut butter, boxed pasta and sauce, unsweetened applesauce, and fruit in juice. When it is available, we also provide fruit such as clementines and apples. As much as possible, we aim to provide nutritious foods that are easy for students to open and fix by themselves.

How can people donate to the program?

Monetary donations can be sent to the Shippensburg University Foundation/SCRC and in the memo write: “Food Insecurity.” You can donate online through the SU Foundation website:

https://community.sufoundation.org/GeneralDonationForm?fid=xaIwmIeqOnk%3d&fdesc=4QW%2fMSRWLx%2bc1ebGaPphbZZluml48h5jifB42QlShPwUbvJ94UCC1DKU%2f2aB0QatnlClfTNU3Zw%3d, or mail your donation to: Shippensburg University Foundation, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, Pa. 17257.

The Central PA Food Bank has asked that we do not do any food drives at this time as they attempt to manage the increased demand all food resource programs are experiencing.

How has the process changed with the coronavirus guidelines?

Our method of getting the food bags to the students changed when the public schools closed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Traditionally, students picked up their food bags at the counselor’s office on Fridays and took them home. With the schools closed, we had to revamp our process. Families could pick up their food bags when they picked up their free meals at school. If they had no transportation, we arranged deliveries. The enrollment process also changed. When school was in session, school counselors and the social worker would refer families to the program and have the families complete a paper enrollment form. Now we are using a Google Form that families can complete online or a provider can complete over the phone to enroll students so we are compliant with social distancing and working from home. Another change is that some of our volunteers and staff are mainly working remotely. The AmeriCorps VISTA, Josh, and myself are supporting the program remotely. We also had to decrease the number of volunteers when packing and delivering the bags to ensure we were following social distancing guidelines. SCRC provided hand-sewn face masks to all the volunteers. Lastly, we have experienced food shortages in what we are able to buy at the Central PA Food Bank and local grocery stores. Richard Shumway is resourceful and has successfully contacted grocery stores to ask them to order and reserve items that we need, but it is an increased cost for the program as the items are more expensive at grocery stores versus the Central PA Food Bank.

What comments do you have on the importance of the program, and what it means to be able to continue it during these difficult times?

When children leave school on Friday, for the weekend, there is a gap in the food resources available to them as they do not receive free and reduced lunches when school is not in session.

A lack of access to healthy food is a social determinant of health, especially in the lives of growing children. Research shows a correlation between access to healthy food and improved academic performance (Corcoran, Elbel, Schwartz, 2014). Inadequate nutrition during the school-age years leads to reduced learning and productivity (Ke, Ford-Jones, 2015). Hound Packs aims to increase the amount of food, specifically healthy food that school-age children receive over the weekends to decrease the social determinant of lack of access to food and assist in improving their capability not only in school but also in life. The need for this program in our community is evident in the 63 new enrollees in the past four weeks. During a time in which many families are struggling to make ends meet, if we can help provide food for them, they will have more money to spend on other basic needs such as rent and utilities. When I first brought up expanding the program to include non-school age children and to enroll any child even without a school referral, the Advisory Board did not hesitate in approving the expansion. The Advisory Board also decided to continue Hound Packs through the summer months. Traditionally, the program ends when school is over for the academic year. However, given that the economic impacts of the coronavirus will continue for months, we feel it is essential that we continue to provide Hound Packs to families. We currently have funding from the Partnership for Better Health and WellSpan Health that covers us for the academic year, but are seeking funds to continue the program through the summer months.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, 40.7 percent, or 1,308 students, in the Shippensburg Area School District (SASD) qualified for free or reduced lunch during the 2018-19 academic year. Some schools within the district experience even higher rates of eligibility for free or reduced lunch. According to the Shippensburg Area School District, the highest rates among the six schools are at James Burd Elementary (48.6 percent), Nancy Grayson Elementary (44.8 percent) and the Intermediate School (47.5 percent).

What comments do you have on the community’s support of the program?

The community’s support of the program is overwhelmingly positive. I facilitate weekly Community Conference Calls for anyone in the Shippensburg community to address agency changes/updates, needs in the community, and how to address those needs. From the beginning, the community’s response was: ‘How can we get food to families that have no transportation to get to the schools?’ After one week of problem-solving, the SASD had a plan that included Hound Packs. The SASD and Chartwells Dining Services have collaborated seamlessly with the SCRC to ensure students could receive their Hound Packs with the free school meals. We also have community volunteers lined up to help deliver Hound Packs during the summer months.

When the order for Universal Masking came out on April 3, I sent out a “Call to Action” to the community to help provide hand-sewn face masks to those still working in the community such as Hound Packs volunteers. After one-and-half weeks, 200 masks were delivered and distributed!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

If anyone is interested in volunteering to help with Hound Packs, especially this summer,  or providing face masks, they can contact me at: sp-scrc@shipresources.org, or (717) 658-2092. More information about Hound Packs and resources during COVID-19 can be found on our website: www.shipresources.org

The community conference calls are every Tuesday at 11 am. Contact me for the call-in information.

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