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County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

New Student Food Assistance Comes to HMS

Simple Germ of Idea Sprouts Into Nutrition for Youths


HARRISON – Last winter when Michelle Neff, MSU Extension educator and Youth Action Council adviser, visited the Hayes Municipal Complex in December to give a presentation on her recently compiled youth needs assessment survey, Hayes Township Trustee Mike Haley was piqued with an idea. Haley said his idea for Harrison Middle School germinated for a while, and having had several discussions about it with Neff, he decided to pursue it further.

“I started talking with her,” Haley said. “About what I thought of was an abbreviated version of what they do at Hillside and Larson – backpack meals that we could send home.”

That led to contacting the Mid Michigan Community Action Agency and the Lansing Food Bank, among others. The Food Bank brings food monthly to Clare County for distribution, so that organization is well aware of the great need within this county.

“The way I envision it at this point is to have a pilot program through the end of the school year to see how everything runs,” Haley said. “For right now, I just wanted to make sure they have something for the weekend.”

The first shipment of food arrived May 30, consisting of 2 1/2 pallets of boxes filled with large zip-top plastic bags containing canned goods, mac and cheese boxes, peanut butter and more. Haley said assistance was forthcoming as a couple high school students, two or three eighth-graders and some seventh-graders quickly made short work of unloading the boxes.

“I love working with those kids, they were very helpful,” Haley said. “The school was very helpful.”

Haley, being new to the ways of foundations and grant miracles, is definitely delighted by the speed with which those people who are wise in the ways of program procurement and eligibilities have been able to make his germ of an idea a reality for Harrison Middle School students.

“Literally, this came together so quickly,” Haley said. “I wasn’t picturing anything happening until next September. And it shocks me that everybody said ‘Yes, we’ll do this.’”

When asked if there are any criteria regarding participation eligibility, Haley was specific.

“The way we talked about it with the two agencies, we’re not going to discriminate or exclude anyone,” he said.

It is, of course, obvious that the food need for these students is real. After all, the backpack programs at Larson and Hillside Elementary schools is known to be helping hundreds of children every week. Thus, it doesn’t take a great leap of logic to understand that the home circumstances of these children do not change simply because they have advanced a grade level and moved into a new school.

HMS Principal Kelli Pieprzyk was away on the school field trip to Michigan’s Adventure when the first food distribution took place, but during a Monday phone follow-up had a positive response to this initiative to support her students’ nutrition at home.

“As a staff, we’re excited to be able to have a supply that we can give our kids if they might need something extra,” Pieprzyk said. “When I went in there today to check, a lot of the boxes were gone. We’re looking forward to continuing it next year with Mike’s support – we’re really appreciative of him taking the initiative and getting it going.”

Pieprzyk reaffirmed the intent to continue distribution each Friday through the end of the school year, as well as for any individual student who may need something during the week.

Haley also said he expects to see the food being provided every Friday for as long as the organizations can continue to make it available. Ideally, he also wants to find a way to have the food available to students through the summer, as well. However, that is not happening yet.

There was an additional item addressed in the Needs Assessment Survey which Haley plans to investigate further – finding a safe, healthful place where students can go to recreate and socialize with one another.

“Kids need a place to go, and something to do when they get there,” he said. “Even if it was just one or two times a month, have a movie night or playing basketball – something.”

As of now, nothing solid has materialized on that front. Again – it’s one step at a time.


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