AMSTERDAM — Volunteers gathered at Amsterdam High School on Friday to make their final summer weekend grocery delivery to city families in need as parents, students and staff prepare to begin a new and unconventional academic year on Sept. 8.
The pre-packed bags contained non-perishable goods, including pasta and sauce, peanut butter and jelly, donated by local companies and brought to roughly 140 families in the school district.
Nancy Rad, community schools coordinator at Amsterdam High School, spearheaded the effort. When lockdown measures went into effect, she knew parents would struggle to feed their kids without Amsterdam’s in-school breakfast and lunch programs.
“It’s no secret we have a lot of poverty here. Seventy-three percent of our school population is socioeconomically disadvantaged,” said Rad. “When this happened in March, I said I want to do what we can, and we have to deliver it to them – the need isn’t going away.”
What started out as about 60 bags driven around the city, has grown considerably over the last few months through Rad’s connections with housing authority employees, social workers, and community members.
Friday, however, was the last time the groceries will go out to families this summer. While school begins for Amsterdam High School students on Tuesday, Sept. 8, classes will be digital-only for two weeks before switching to a two-days-in, three-days-out hybrid setup.
Volunteers Bill and Jane Bowler have been delivering summer groceries since March when they saw Nancy Rad’s post on Facebook about starting the program.
While figuring out where all their stops were was confusing at first, the couple now has a regular route through the city with families they have gotten to know over the summer.
“We’ve been fortunate in our life. We like to say it’s because of choice – it isn’t. There’s things that happen and, let’s face it, people need a hand,” said Bill Bowler, a retired schoolteacher who worked in Fonda-Fultonville schools.
Amsterdam has also been packing cold lunches into brown paper bags since March, delivering them to students on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Friday, Rad was helping to load sacks full of hamburgers, hot dogs, and cinnamon buns onto a Brown Transportation school bus.
Jason Frederico, a bus driver from Brown, helps with the program because he knows the need in the community.
“I think this program should be every year. Once these government benefits end, a lot of these kids aren’t going to have food,” said Frederico.
When school starts, families that have opted to have their children be educated entirely online will still be able to get the cold packed meals. So far, that’s looking like a popular option – Rad said more than 1,000 families have already said their kids wouldn’t be attending physical classes.
She hopes that the return to school, however unorthodox, will help the community during this trying time.
“There’s been a lot more crying, a lot more bored kids, and I’m sure there’s been an influx of domestic violence and that kind of stuff. That’s why we need them back. It’s time for us to be much more aware of our social and emotional needs, of families, of staff, because everyone is stressed.”