BUFFALO, NY - According to the Food Bank of Western New York, food insecurity continues to be a prevalent issue in our area.
The food bank is trying to address the problem by bringing free grocery shopping into schools.
The food bank reports that they have seen a four percent increase in people they serve in the past year. They have seen a 12 percent increase in children and infants.
The statistics paint the outline of the issue but the stories of those affected fill in the whole picture.
"I remember when I was in middle school and I would see students packing in there backpacks, they would put extra breakfast in there because they would go home and would not have anything to eat," Shay Livingston, a senior at Maritime Charter School, said.
A handful of Maritime teens spent the morning grocery shopping in their cafeteria. They are able to do that because of a program through the food bank called the "School Pantry Program".
These students are a cross-section of more than 500 students and their family members currently receiving help from the food bank through this program.
Maritime is one of four schools in Western New York trying out the pilot program.
"My mom, she works two jobs," said Daryl Cooper. "She works day and night. So she's not able to go to the grocery store a lot. My dad, he has a shoulder injury, so he's not able to get out of the house that much."
For Daryl, the responsibility of weekly groceries for his family falls on him.
The food bank reports that he is not alone. Many teens are responsible for getting food for their households.
With the pantry program, the food bank stocks the corner of the Maritime cafeteria once a week and Daryl and other students like him can come and shop for their families for free.
"We save a lot of money," Daryl said of the program. "Now I might be able to play football this year and my little brother, he might be playing football. And my little sister, she can do her dance."
It's a tremendous responsibility for a teen but with the help of the food bank's pantry, one that they can deliver on.
"It's a really good feeling," said Soliangely Valentin. "It's been helping me a lot. Every Friday receiving this kind of food. It's been pretty special."
Whether or not they know it, the program is meant to be more than just a source of food.
Students follow charts that tell them how much of each food to get based on the size of their household, teaching portion size and nutrition.
It is all a part of this program to address each case of food insecurity and ultimately lower the hunger statistic.
The food bank depends on the support of the community to sustain programs like the Food Pantry Program. To help support the food bank or volunteer, you can learn more on their website.