One Bag at a Time: Kids Feeding Other Kids

Students give up their playtime to pack the snack bags

Their tiny fingers haven't quite figured out the art of opening a milk carton. But the preschoolers at Bushwick United Head Start school are pretty efficient at serving themselves. 

It's lunchtime at the school on Stanhope Street. The mixed vegetables, stuffed shells and applesauce on their plates are free, provided by the federal government.

"We have so many parents that are very very poor," said Jose Gonzalez, administrative director for Bushwick United Head Start.

Head Start helps to fill the tummies of the 4-year-olds Monday through Friday. But the question many community leaders have just started to ask is: What about the weekend?

"I noticed the need and the gap that they had between Friday to Monday morning, that their parents just for different reasons weren't able to give them as much food as they wanted to," said Julieth Melendez, director of Freedom Square, a non-profit feeding program.

The solution for Melendez was simple: send food bags home with the children from low-income families on Fridays. Enter the "Nom Nom Snack Bag Project." The unusual name was inspired by Melendez's daughter.

"She was eating a cookie and was like 'nom nom nom nom' and I asked her, 'what is that?' She said it's a 'nom nom nom' and I just thought it was an amazing name," said Melendez.

Two days a week the students from Manhattan's Geneva School give up their after-lunch playtime to fill the bags.

"There's applesauce, granola and there's cookies and there's soup," said Geneva School student Isatou Magrin.

They also write notes of love for the kids of Brooklyn.

"I wrote 'dear friend have a bright day,'" said one student.

And once a month Geneva's Upper School students deliver the goodies. NBC New York's cameras were in the classroom for their first visit.

"It feels like it's our job to help these kids," said Geneva School student Ben Witske.

Childcry, the children's feeding program of Times Square Church, handles the ordering, storing, and on most Fridays, the food delivery.

"Anytime you have kids going home and you're not sure if they're going to have a bite to eat over the weekend or perhaps even what they're eating over the weekend I think that situation becomes dire," said Childcry Program Director Ben Hughes.

The bags are now being delivered to six Head Start schools in Bushwick and South Williamsburg, two of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

"We started with 100 bags delivered between the six schools and now just six months later we're delivering 400 bags," Melendez said.

The growing need for the bags is a real sign of the times. The unemployment and hunger crisis has hit this community especially hard.

"Plenty of our parents have lost their jobs and these 'nom nom' bags have been helping so much," said Gonzalez.

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