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Grant helps school fight hunger

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Tristan Winstead, 3, selects a bag of Cheetos from a box of snacks offered by West Edgecombe Middle School teacher Angela Atkinson on Friday during the school's community outreach program at Cokey Apartments.

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By AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Saturday, March 4, 2017

It is unusual to see children greet the arrival of a school principal with smiles and laughter, but when the principal comes to a home armed with snacks and juice, they do.

For Claude Archer, principal of West Edgecombe Middle School, this scenario is a weekly occurrence. Each Friday afternoon, he and a couple of staff members visit children in the school district to distribute snacks and meet his students and future students on their home ground as part of a “Make a Difference” initiative. This Friday, he and two teachers visited the Cokey Apartment Complex.

Brooke Sykes, a teacher at West Edgecombe Middle School, said she feels this effort helps build relationships with students and families.

“Some of these kids don’t even go to our school yet, but they see us here helping them out. This also gives us an opportunity to get a better idea of what these families need,” Sykes said.

Angela Atkinson, who teaches business education at the school, said she has learned the importance of building relationships through this process. 

“I think building relationships is an important piece for any successful school,” Atkinson said. “This children are learning to respect us and to see that we care about them.”

Amina Sharpe,11, said she likes having school staff come to her apartment complex.

“This gives them a chance to see what my neighborhood is like,” Sharpe said.

Imani Hall, another student at West Edgecombe Middle School, said she also appreciates the effort.

“Its feels like they are trying to help us out,” Hall said.

Archer said he feels there are a lot of children in Edgecombe County who are in danger of going hungry on weekends and during the summer when the school is not providing free meals to them. He wants students and families to see the school as a resource for help at times when food is needed.

In Edgecombe County, this problem looms larger than any some other areas. According to the Down East Partnership for Children, 57.4 percent of families qualify to receive Social Security Supplemental Income or Food Stamps benefits, compared to 36.8 percent of families in Nash County. Edgecombe County Public Schools is able to offer breakfast and lunch free to all students because more than 65 percent of students in the school system qualify for the free lunch program.

However, the school cannot always be there to meet these needs on weekends and in the summer, Archer said.

“It is easy to sit in my office and assume that all these children have enough to eat, but when I get into the community, I see the needs,” Archer said.

In order to help address this issue, West Edgecombe Middle School recently applied for a $10,000 grant from Syngenta and received $2,500 in grant money. West Edgecombe Middle School was one of 26 organizations in North Carolina and Minnesota to be awarded a total of $90,000 in community grant funds from Syngenta, a global agriculture company that employs 350 people at its Research Triangle Park campus. A local employee team chose grant recipients for their commitment to educate the community — particularly youth — about agriculture, science, land and water conservation or hunger relief, according to a press release from Syngenta.

“Working to end world hunger on a global level is vital to Syngenta. It’s important to our company, and our employees, to reach out and help those in our local communities as much as possible,” Pam Bullock, communication lead for North America corporate affairs for Syngenta, told the Telegram.

Archer hopes to use these funds to help set up and supplement a food pantry for school families. He also hopes to soon start an organic produce patch on school grounds.

“Many of our students are interested in the idea of organic farming,” Archer said. “This will give them a chance to create a garden of their own.”

West Edgecombe also provides meals for needy families at Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, Archer hopes to increase the options he has to help children who are never quite certain if enough food will be available in their homes.

“We want to provide as many opportunities as possible to help these families,” Archer said.

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