BUFFALO, N.Y. — During the Covid-19 pandemic, food insecurity has become a problem for many families who never imagined they would have trouble putting food on the table. So this weekend, "Good Neighbors" are doing their part to help by holding two different food drives - one in the Northtowns and one in the Southtowns.
At Sweet Home High School, an old office has been turned into a food pantry and it is busier than ever. The school's food service provides free meals every day to children, but it is increasingly common for many families to go hungry on the weekend.
High school English teacher and President of the Sweet Home Education Foundation Lisa Labrake said in the first 6 weeks of the pandemic, the number of students served by the school's food pantry increased 400 percent. Now 42 families, and more than 100 children, receive weekly backpacks or boxes filled with enough food to get them through the weekend.
"The pandemic has exacerbated this need and limited the kids from accessing food from us," said Labrake.
Sweet Home's Weekend Backpack Food Program relies on donations from teachers, staff, students, members of the community, and protein donations from Feedmore WNY. Then student and staff volunteers sort the donations, check expiration dates and pack the boxes. Recipients are kept confidential and either pick up the boxes weekly and teachers volunteer to make home deliveries.
"As teachers you're so limited by how much you can even get near a student to work with them, and to understand what they're really dealing with, but to pack food in a backpack and know that the family is getting the sustenance for the weekend, it's heartwarming," said Labrake.
It's also an opportunity for students, including those with special needs, to volunteer.
14-year-old Sweet Home freshman Maddie Van Dusen says the pandemic has been difficult for her, but she realizes others have it much worse. Now she volunteers in the food pantry during her free period every day she's in school. She said she feels like gives her a purpose during these dark times.
"I felt so awful that I could walk around this whole time not thinking that people all around me in school are really struggling, that they're just barely getting by," said Van Dusen. "It's been eye-opening."
Sweet Home plans keep the food pantry operating through the summer and it's always in need of donations.
The community can donate non-perishables in bins at Sweet Home High School everyday, but on Saturday, March 13, the school is holding a contactless food drive. Volunteers will empty the back seats and trunks of cars to collect donations at the corner of Sweet Home High School and Skinnersville Drive from 9 am to noon.
Even the youngest of children recognize the need to help.
6-year-old Camryn Sireika of Lackawanna came home from kindergarten at Notre Dame Academy one day and told her mom she wanted to do a food drive so people wouldn't be hungry.
"It's the Easter season, so why not take the opportunity to do some good and nurture her little heart? Let's do some good in our community and give it a try," said Becca Sireika, Camryn's mom. "She's always had a very kind and gentle and caring heart."
Becca helped Camryn plan not just a food drive, but an online fundraiser for Catholic Charities as well, because Camryn wanted to do more.
"She mentioned that it's more than just food. She wants people to be warm. She wants them to have a nice home to sleep in. She wants them to be safe," said Becca.
They've already raised $1,200 of their $5,000 goal. Click here to donate to Camryn's online fundraiser.
Camryn's Food Drive is Saturday from 10 am to noon at Catholic Charities' Russell J. Salvatore Food Pantry & Outreach, located at 75 Caldwell Place in Lackawanna. For more information, click here.