District's free school markets move indoors for winter

The school markets at Boulevard and Oxford elementary schools will continue to offer free fruits, vegetables and healthy pantry items to school families and other Heights residents this winter, and throughout the school year. The schools have partnered with School Market, a program of the Cleveland Food Bank, to provide nutritious food to district families and others, outside of the school day.

Boulevard’s School Market takes place on the first Tuesday of each month, and Oxford’s is on the third Tuesday of the month, both from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

The school markets moved indoors in December, and Boulevard’s social worker Karen Allen saw a significant drop-off in participation on the first indoor market day. “It was cold and rainy so I think that might have had an impact, especially for families without cars,” she said. The school served only 102 families on Dec. 6, compared to the usual 135.

Allen hopes that the presence of a nutritionist from the food bank will help to draw more participants. At a recent market, the nutritionist prepared homemade chili for tasting and provided printed recipes featuring that month’s produce to help enable families to prepare healthy meals at home.

The Cleveland Food Bank’s School Market program is available to any school where at least 50 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch—the federal government’s standard for poverty. The goal of the program, established in 2014 in response to rising poverty levels, is to ensure that students and community members have access to affordable fresh produce. In 2015, the program began adding healthy pantry items to its markets, and now delivers between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds of food items to both Boulevard and Oxford each month.

Children are welcome to pick up their own supplies and bring them home, and community members can show up without documentation or proof of address and still select food. “The goal of the food bank is straightforward: to feed people,” said social worker Cindy Schmidt. “So they put as few obstacles in place as possible.”

The food bank’s only request is that schools document how many students, adults, families and senior citizens the program serves.

According to Schmidt, who has everyone sign in before “shopping,” almost 400 students, 125 families and 66 seniors were served at Oxford’s market on Oct. 18. Community members gathered early, filling bags with carrots, cucumbers, onions and romaine lettuce. Students eagerly lined up as soon as the school bell rang, bravely trying out an apple smoothie that was more delicious than it looked.

“It’s yummy, like cinnamon!” said a fourth-grade girl who eagerly grabbed the printed recipe after taking a hesitant first sip.

Samuel Saunders, father of an Oxford kindergartner, was volunteering at one of five overflowing tables and didn't hesitate to close the deal with vegetable-phobic youngsters. “Carrots are like candy!” he called to all who walked by. “Carrots help you see in the dark, like a superhero!”

The students ate it up, so to speak, and so did the adults. One mother and grandmother were thrilled with the “real fruits and vegetables, with all their twists and bumps—not like the stuff at the grocery store on steroids,” they said. “It’s phenomenal for the kids to get to be a part of this.”

Second-grade teacher Sarah Adair agreed. “This is an amazing resource for our families. It exposes kids to new foods so they can be risk-takers at home,” she said, referring to an International Baccalaureate learner profile.

Program volunteers include community members who are happy for the opportunity to engage with their neighborhood school. “It’s as if the school is becoming a real thing to people, not just that brick building they pass by each day,” said Schmidt. 

Lynne Maragliano, who retired from Roxboro last spring after 23 years teaching kindergarten, is thrilled to help at Oxford’s market every month. “There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing people have good, real food. These children are my heart.”

Oxford grandmother Brenda Beyah’s approach to volunteering is simple: “Any time I have an opportunity to help my community, I take it. We should all be in a race to do good.”

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former district teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this story appeared at www.chuh.org.

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Volume 10, Issue 1, Posted 10:55 AM, 01.03.2017