Nourishment in a Backpack in Springs

Representatives from United Healthcare presented the Springs School with a check for $3,500 to officially launch the Springs chapter of Blessings in a Backpack, which helps feed schoolchildren on weekends. Judy D’Mello

For about 50 Springs School students, weekends from here on will be about being happy, not hungry. On Friday, Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger, opened a chapter in Springs. During a ceremony at the school, with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming in attendance, the chapter was honored as the first for the nonprofit on the East End.

Blessings in a Backpack, which began in Kentucky in 2005 and now serves more than 92,000 students in 47 states, will provide Springs School children who qualify for free and reduced lunches with a bag of food to take home on the weekends, a time when they are often hungry.

The local chapter was made possible by donations from residents and a $3,500 gift from United Healthcare. Debra Winter, the district’s superintendent, who championed bringing this initiative to Springs, having successfully started a chapter in Longwood, her previous school district, said she was moved by the community’s mobilization to help launch the program. The superintendent had introduced the idea to the public on July 23, when she announced the school’s fund-raising goal of $7,000. To date, $10,000 has been collected, which will secure food for about 50 children for every weekend during the 38-week school year, she said.

On Friday, 38 brown bags filled with food stood on a table outside the front doors of the school, and later that afternoon they were distributed to children in need of extra nourishment. Each pack contained two dinners, two lunches, two breakfasts, and two snacks.

Eric Casale, the school’s principal, thanked United Healthcare for its generosity and announced that Stefany Gomez, a registration clerk at the school, and Cindy Realmuto, a teaching assistant, were appointed co-chairwomen of the program. Their duties will include overseeing and budgeting the food shopping, organizing student volunteers to pack the bags each week, and asking food purveyors for donations.

The inaugural 38 bags were packed by students in Kristy LaMonda’s functional-academics class, sometimes known as a life skills class. The teacher put together a laminated step-by-step instruction manual on the proper techniques of packing canned and packaged goods, which her students followed, she said. Students will also help with grocery shopping once a week.

Trish Ewald, a Blessings in a Backpack employee, said on Friday that about 20 percent of school-age children in Suffolk County have been found to have returned to school on Mondays without having their nutritional needs met over the weekend, significantly affecting their neural development and emotional well-being.

A nationwide evaluation of the program conducted by a market research company showed that 59 percent of children fed through it said they found it easier to concentrate at school, 60 percent saw a decrease in behavioral issues, 78 percent felt cared for by their community, and 60 percent of children reported that their school attendance drastically improved.

Angelo Zuffante, a regional manager with United Healthcare, said that his company contributed not only to help children in need, but also to possibly offer health care to families in Springs who might be without insurance. Facilitating the opening of a Blessings in a Backpack chapter in the hamlet was “a win-win for United Healthcare,” he said, adding that it is important for it to be known that even East Hampton has a pocket of people who need help.

Mr. Thiele, in addressing those gathered on Friday, gave his personal reasons for supporting the food program: “My daughter, who just graduated from college, has started working as a nutritionist. She suffers from lupus, so proper nutrition has also been very important in our family.”

Ms. Fleming, meanwhile, said the East End’s long history of agriculture makes the fact that children in the area go hungry seem even more incongruous.