Healthy meals for healthy families
By Jennifer Mellace
For many kids, Saturday morning pancakes and orange juice are just a normal part of the weekend. But for others, breakfast, or any meal for that matter, isn’t a given. For some families, there isn’t enough money to provide three square meals a day, and children go hungry. That’s when Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg steps in.
Started in 2014 by current board president Jim Dunlop and a small group of kind volunteers from churches in Gettysburg and leaders from the school district, Ruth’s Harvest provides children in the Gettysburg Area School District (GASD) with a backpack full of free food each Friday afternoon—enough to last throughout the weekend, when some kids don’t have a chance to eat proper, healthy meals.
“I helped facilitate this group and get it started after learning of Ruth’s Harvest Hanover—a similar program in the Hanover Public School District—and learning from the elementary principals that there was a definite need,” says Dunlop. “Today, we are 100-percent volunteer run including school leaders and teachers who help out on their own time.”
Ruth’s Harvest is available to any student who is eligible for the federal free or reduced-price school lunch program, which is only available to families of four who earn less than $30,500 per year. “To put things in perspective, approximately half of the elementary students in the GASD are eligible to participate,” says Dunlop. “Last school year, about 40 percent participated, and we packed 200 to 250 backpacks each week. We initially piloted the program with nearly 100 students at James Gettys Elementary. By the midpoint of the school year, we started offering it to students at Lincoln Elementary School with a full rollout at Lincoln in the fall of 2015. At the same time, our sister program, Franklin Friends, began serving the children at Franklin Township Elementary, and in 2016 we opened it to middle school students as well.”
Donna Harrison is the principal of James Gettys Elementary and has been involved with Ruth’s Harvest from the beginning. “Our school presented as one of the schools with the greatest need,” recalls Harrison. “Fifty-nine percent of the students at James Gettys are in the lunch program.”
Today, all three elementary schools are covered along with the middle school, and Ruth’s Harvest will also be offered at the high school this school year. “The staff in each school invites students to get a backpack at the beginning of the school year,” says Dunlop. “Families simply need to elect to participate in the program, and then each school lets us know how many backpacks they need each week and we get it back to them.”
Every week, donations are collected from eight to 10 organizations—mostly local churches and a few others. In September, Ruth’s Harvest hosts a large community food drive, which supplies enough food for the first month or two of the school year.
“We also buy significant amounts of food from the Central Penn Food Bank, and we’re beneficiaries of the Gleaning Project, which is organized under the South Central Community Action Programs,” Dunlop says. “The project gathers donated food from more than 40 local farms (most of it gleaned by volunteers) and distributes it to partner organizations around Adams and Franklin Counties like Ruth’s Harvest. It’s an awesome partnership that allows us to put a fresh fruit (and sometimes a vegetable or potato) in the backpacks each week.
“We will supplement whatever we can’t get from participating sources by purchasing directly from Kennie’s Market and Giant,” says Dunlop. “Because we are housed at a school-district building and are 100-percent volunteer run, we have nearly zero overhead. Almost every cent of every donation goes to food-purchasing.”
In 2015, Ruth’s Harvest incorporated and in 2016 it received its 501(c)3 designation as a not-for-profit organization. Funded with donations from individuals and community organizations, the program has also received numerous grants from some local foundations and church institutions.
“Honestly, because people tend to be private, I don’t get much feedback,” says Dunlop. “But, I hear from a lot of the teachers (my two kids go to James Gettys) that they know the food is going to good use in most cases. One day, I was at Giant buying $800 worth of groceries for the program and a woman who works there came up to me and thanked me privately because her daughter (also a student at James Gettys) was getting a backpack.”
Harrison points out that Ruth’s Harvest is a big help to many kids, but for a few, it’s huge. “We know we can’t take care of all the students’ needs,” she says, “but it’s good to know we can take care of just one.”
What’s in a Name?
The true origin of Ruth’s Harvest is biblically based. “In the book of Ruth, wealthy landowners left the edges of their fields unharvested so that their poor neighbors could quietly come and glean food to feed themselves and their families,” says Jim Dunlop, board president of Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg.
“So, the concept of gleaning comes from the book of Ruth, and what’s really cool is that this is exactly what’s happening. As a beneficiary of the Gleaning Project [a collaborative, nonprofit effort to reduce food loss on local farms and increase food security in our communities], we have donated food from local farms in the students’ backpacks each week.”
How to Help
Tax-deductible gifts of any size are welcome and can be mailed to Ruth’s Harvest Gettysburg, P.O. Box 4771, Gettysburg, PA 17325.