BY THE NUMBERS AT WADS

56% poverty rate
1694 students in poverty
3026 enrollment as of 12/3/18
22 homeless students
25 Thanksgiving food boxes given
189 students receive reduced price lunch (5.9%)
1534 students receive free lunch (47.6%)

WALLENPAUPACK - There are 22 students in the Wallenpaupack School District considered homeless. Last year, Rosemary Martynuk established “Our Kids’ Food Pantry” in the high school after learning of some students’ situations and how significant their needs for food was. A teacher’s aid, Martynuk said the pantry’s purpose is to give the students and their families food on a weekly basis. But, a challenge is that some students are embarrassed and don’t seek the assistance or they don’t want governmental agencies involved.

According to Ann Monaghan, the registrar and homeless liaison for the district, the children range from preschool to seniors. Each child’s situation is different, but if separated from a parent, under federal law the child is considered homeless.

56 percent poverty

Monaghan said many in the community don’t realize the poverty level in the district is about 56 percent. The classification of homelessness qualifies them to benefits from the district that include free and reduced lunch, or mile reimbursement for a parent who transports their child from their residence if they live out of the district. Under federal law, if a child had to move, rather than disturbing their education, they can continue their education in the district. One such case, a parent was transporting their child from Tobyhanna and consequently, Wallenpaupack and the other district split the cost and paid for the parent’s milage. Monaghan said the process to withdraw and move a child is additional “trauma,” so it’s more practical to keep the student in the “district of origin.”

The situations vary, but the district tends to learn of the various students by the family or the student. One case, after the student sought a bus pass, it was learned that he was left in a house his family was living in, although everyone else moved. In another case, a parent left their child and moved to Florida to be with their significant other.

On record, Monaghan said there are 22 known students considered homeless, but the reality is that, there may be more that the district isn’t aware of.

No food in the house?

Surprised by the need of food, Martynuk asked, “How do you not have food in the house?”  She and her colleagues: Maureen Kelly, Hayley Putsch and Special Education Teacher Gia Anagnos-Micciche have been managing the pantry and assisting the students when necessary.

Despite the support of area businesses and teachers, the challenge is sustaining throughout the year. Martynuk said she needs help because she can’t continue seeking assistance from the same businesses. She’s sought help from county commissioners, spoke at a board of education meeting and a township meeting.

Wayne and Pike counties, Monaghan said, may be the only counties in the state that don’t have homeless shelters. There are some churches offering warming shelters for a night and a few temporary apartments. The Wayne County Housing Authority has created a home share program, where people who have an extra room, can offer it for a small fee or the person in need can do chores. The person, however, must be at least 18.

Most district has seen

The 22 students are the highest number the district has seen. While more families are in need of assistance, Monaghan said a problem is that there are few services in the area. Often, the homeless are thought to be in cities, but locally people have been found sleeping in the bandstand in Bingham Park during the summer months. Monaghan called the issue a “hidden aspect of the district” that people aren’t aware of. She quoted Superintendent Michael Silsby that the area is ‘land rich, but job poor’ because there is little to sustain those on a living wage.

In the past, Martynuk said students have taken showers at the school or had their laundry done, because they didn’t have hot water at home. Some teachers have even taken students’ laundry home because “it takes a village to raise a child” Monaghan said.

Martynuk said her goal is to establish pantries in the district’s other buildings, but funding is needed. Monaghan said if administrators are aware of a child in need, something is done to help them. Many of the students in the high school who seek help, have siblings in the other buildings, so the foods are shared.

Weekly, the students receive bags filled to the brim. Monaghan said throughout the state, districts send students home with backpacks filled with groceries, so it’s not just an issue in the Lake Region.

Fifteen at DV school district

In the Delaware Valley School District there are presently 15 homeless students because they do not have a permanent residence, Superintendent Dr. John Bell stated. DV doesn’t have its own food pantry, but the district works with two local food pantries and there are many student-led food drives that send items to the pantries.

Based in a former classroom, “Our Kids’ Food Pantry” has food and toiletries, because one student told Martynuk that she didn’t have bedsheets. In order not to embarrass the students, they visit the pantry in groups so they’re not alone and don’t use shopping bags to carry their foods.

Looking at the foods in the pantry, Anagnos-Micciche said the staff knows the children get two good meals during the week, but who knows what they receive once home. To that, Kelly said each child has their own story.

Foods in the pantry range from peanut butter and jelly to pasta, sauces and more, all of which the women noted were foods the students can make by themselves if necessary. Martynuk called the options “good food.” If able, she’d love to offer bread, potatoes and vegetables.

Overtime the students have come to open up and when a student tells the women they don’t have a refrigerator or their stove doesn’t work, that Anagnos-Micciche called “heartbreaking” because she knows they’re using a microwave or hot plate to heat their meals. Because the women have come to know the students, they tailor the foods and toiletries to the individual, conscious of allergies.

Being unable to buy lunch, Anagnos-Micciche said makes some students uncomfortable. Although there is free and reduced lunch, there are parents who don’t fill out the necessary paperwork. Reduced lunch costs $.40 and regular priced lunch is $3.00.

Kelly called the community “amazing” because of the continual support, which included numerous turkeys and 25 boxes of foods for Thanksgiving. Petsche said the district “prides itself on family,” which has been proven time and time again because of teachers giving continuously, especially during the holidays.

Cheesy soup “exciting”

Martynuk recalled one student emptying his bag and putting his name on the foods. Petsche said one student was “super excited” for the cheesy soup in his bag.

To maintain the pantry, Kelly figured it costs hundreds of dollars a month. To expand the pantry to the other buildings, Martynuk thinks it would cost $1,000 a month. All of the foods in the pantry are donations and Kelly said every “little bit helps.” Now, Martynuk is applying for grants.

When on lunch duty, Anagnos-Micciche and Kelly said they always carry extra food because they know there will be students without a lunch. They’re also, always prepared for the students in school suspension. Some students call the women “mom and grandma.”

Kelly said she’s seen students share their lunches. Petsche called that “amazing.” The children, come from “every walk of life” said Kelly. Overtime, Martynuk said some children are changing and not for the better. Petsche explained it’s their appearance and they have become gaunt in the face. But, the women know the supplies the students are receiving is helping them. In addition to the food, “Off the Rack” is a clothes closet that offers sweatshirts, sneakers and more for free.

Seeing the students in need, each woman said it’s sad at times. Kelly noted that they haven’t been unable to help a child yet, so they’ve been “fortunate.”

As a parent, Anagnos-Micciche said she wants to see other children thrive as well as her own. Although they have been, and will continue to do what they can, the women said help is needed. Petsche said they must do what they can for the students because, “These kids are our future.” Anagnos-Micciche added, “The future of the world.”

Donations are always being collected. For more information about “Our Kids’ Food Pantry” contact Martynuk at 570-226-4557 ex. 5242.