Fort Mill Times

Food drive gets boost

After Friday, nobody's questioning how far Lori Maczko will go to feed children in her community. And she's not the only one.

Assistant Principal Maczko, honoring her challenge to eighth-graders at Oakridge Middle School, allowed students to duct tape her to the cafeteria wall Friday for collecting 800 cans of food for the Clover Jaycees. All grades totaled, the school collected more than 1,000 cans.

So how'd she do?

“I'm hanging in there,” Maczko said.

The Jaycees food drive was a school-wide effort, but Maczko is part of another feeding effort that touches even closer to home. In September a partnership began between the Clover Area Assistance Center, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and the Clover school district to “Pack the Back,” or provide backpacks filled with food for weekend and holiday distribution to needy children at the district's six elementary schools. Second Harvest committed $10,000 in grant money for the current school year.

But that program allocated nothing for older students. Sherri Ciurlik, mother of three Oakridge students and president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization, began working with Maczko and other parents to bring snack foods and microwavable items, which turned into peanut butter, jelly, bread, cereal and other items. Volunteers pack bags on Wednesdays, and on Fridays 29 students discreetly receive “enough food to carry through the ho-hum times.”

Having her children and their friends in middle school now gives Ciurlik perspective on how important it is to make sure fellow students are fed.

Said Ciurlik, “They eat like there's no tomorrow.”

Plus, Maczko said, keeping middle school students fed ties directly into performance in the classroom.

“Middle school's when kids grow the most, and they need this,” Maczko said. “We started with 10 kids, and as we looked at what we needed we expanded it to a total of 29 kids. There is a need.”

Along with parents and school staff, the effort even extends to corporate sponsorships. Joy Ziegler, owner of commercial cleaning contractor Jake's Building Maintenance, has a son in third grade at Crowders Creek Elementary School but no students at Oakridge. She never even knew about the new program at Crowders, but she heard what Ciurlik and others were doing and wanted to help.

“Nothing breaks my heart more than a hungry kid,” Ziegler said. “I didn't understand in my own community that there was this kind of need. In 21 years of being a mom, I still don't get how there are kids who aren't being fed. My brain just can't go there.”

Ziegler's company donates to Oakridge's cause monthly. In addition, she secured or is working on assistance from a law firm, corporate executives, home improvement stores and snack companies. Notably, Sara Lee began delivering bread on Friday, after a chance meeting between Ziegler and a company driver in a parking lot.

“I told him you have bread and I want it,” she said. “You have a lot of it. You have a whole bread truck.”

The group has $300 coming in every month, along with a case of apples and other donations, and hopes to add milk and a refrigerator for the school to store items. Ziegler plans presentations for companies of just about every brand name in the coupon pile.

“This is just the beginning,” she said.

Yet with all the positive momentum, enough to cover the rest of this school year, organizers are concerned about next year. Second Harvest's sponsorship runs out after next spring, meaning an additional 100 elementary students may require the same effort now going into less than 30 middle-schoolers.

“Starting next year we're going to need the whole district,” Ciurlik said.

The program needs about $100 per student per year. Ciurlik said she may have to go back to simply asking parents to bring in snack foods at the middle school to cover elementary schools' costs. Yet volunteers plan to keep their effort going.

“It goes straight from Food Lion to the food pantry to the kids,” Ziegler said. “There's no overhead because it's all volunteer. It's a good way to help locally on a regular basis.”

School leaders are concerned about children being fed only or mostly at school, and those students do not do as well in school as others. District board member and Lake Wylie resident Kathy Cantrell believes the ongoing effort is a way to meet the most basic need of students.

“It's a good, nice, warm story and it shows community support for the schools and the children that are hungry,” Cantrell said.

The program has nothing to do with grades, participation in sports and other extracurricular activities or any other designation at the school, Ciurlik said.

"If we don't do anything else at the school but feed hungry kids, that's still pretty good,” Ciurlik said.

If you or your company would like to donate food or help sponsor this district-wide effort, e-mail or call 803-831-8464.