BINGHAMTON, NY – Some government funding is assisting the Food Bank of the Southern Tier with a new strategy for addressing hunger in our area’s schools.

The Food Bank has announced an effort to create more School Food Centers across its 6 county region.

The concept moves beyond the traditional pantry model with the addition of equipment and storage that allows students to learn about food preparation as well as participate in the distribution of food.

The BOCES East Learning Center located inside the Columbus School in Binghamton opened the region’s first School Food Center in 2018.

The center develops rotating menu items and needy families can request up to 9 meals to take home each month.

BOCES East Learning Center Principal Chuck Wheeler says, “This is still part of our classroom. Our students are working and learning directly skills like they might use at a warehouse where they are going and taking food materials and bringing it together and packaging it.”

The Food Bank has received a $75,000 state grant secured by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo that will be made available to school districts in Binghamton, Vestal and the Town of Union to purchase equipment needed to set-up their own food centers.

Broome County then stepped in with another $100,000 to outfit other districts in the county, plus $25,000 toward inventory.

The Food Bank says the long term goal is to have the food centers replace the backpack program, which is limited to weekends and holidays and carries more of a stigma for the recipients involved.