East Central Elementary is adding to the letters associated with the school. The “EC” that is common on car windows and tags has new meaning. With the assistance of a knowledgeable philanthropist, East Central has started a food pantry in an effort to curb the hunger of children who enter their doors, giving new life to the EC symbol. Not only do they want everyone to equate the school with these two members of the alphabet, but now they want their community to know that East Central also means: Everyone cares.

“This idea started in Trion, Georgia with the observation of an eighth-grade student who saw the need to save food from the cafeteria that was being thrown into the trash,” said Faith Cole, a second-grade teacher at East Central who is helping to organize the feeding program. “Her mother, who happened to be an attorney, got involved and worked through the legalities of keeping food that was normally wasted in the cafeteria. That is how Helping Hands Inc. was born.”

Now 12 chapters strong, East Central had an opportunity to develop a pantry of their own that is filled with donations. As part their project-based learning, the school has been able to secure deep freezers to store frozen food items and a refrigerator for the cold goods.

“East Central was the first chapter here in Rome City Schools. We save between 300-400 pounds of food a week, just from the cafeteria. All of the food we save is packaged and safe to keep in our pantry,” said Cole. “We send the food home with our families who may need extra food and we also send them home with meals for over the weekend.”

Cole went on to say that having a healthy diet is essential to learning. Hunger often prohibits the concentration needed to learn. And the health benefits are evident without explanation.

“Carla Harward, the attorney who started the program, has collected data proving scores have increased in schools where they have implemented the Helping Hands Program,” said Cole. “Students’ grades have gotten better because they are not hungry all weekend and in school. We are so thrilled to have found this program and to have Mrs. Harward’s help in getting us started in our school.”

“Our second grade teachers have done such a great job of starting such an impactful project-based learning activity,” said Kristin Teems, Principal for East Central. “The teachers were able to help our students start critically thinking of a problem or a necessity they can address. They work on solving the problem or how to make a project better that is already in practice. They came up with the idea to do something with the food that is thrown away and it has been awesome.”

Not only are East Central’s students saving the food on campus, but they’ve partnered with the Atlanta Food Bank to have food donations delivered and stock the pantry.

“All of our children are so excited to help, and it really instills a sense of community in them. They are getting a great lesson in conservation, and they all help to pack the bags we send home. Using the project-based learning method of teaching, we are able to improve the whole educational experience of our students, making them more well-rounded and prepared for success,” Teems smiled.

“It is a great opportunity for our schools to participate in such a worthy program,” said Rome City School Board member, Alvin Jackson. “There are some kids in our care who do not have food for their families and this is just one way we can make a contribution to our entire community, especially to our students in Rome City Schools. Rome is such a great community, and we are excited to have educators who reach out to those who can help. Partnerships like the one we share with the Northwest Georgia Cancel Coalition—who is here today helping us—and the donations of others is something we see in all of our schools. There are many great ideas on the table and we will continue to put them in motion with our community’s support.”

Erin Hernandez, with the NWGA Cancer Coalition, said that this cause is so important, and getting children the proper nutrition early-on is crucial to their educational and physical development. “It is so important to eat healthy when trying to prevent disease. It really starts with diet and exercise and the people in our organization know hunger is a health disparity. Hunger prevents people from living a healthy lifestyle if they can’t afford food or get food they may need. If they are hungry, learning becomes difficult. So, all efforts to educate our children start with basic needs and one of the most vital needs is food.”

“This is just the beginning for us. We are working every day to build our community outreach programs and we have some really exciting things coming soon,” said Teems. “We are also so thankful to the Atlanta Food Bank for all of their help and for the generous donations of Helping Hands Inc. that allowed us to purchase $1800 in supplies. That includes our refrigerator and other supplies we used to outfit the pantry. Mrs. Harward also helped us to secure a $1400 grant to purchase the food being delivery to us today from the Atlanta Food Bank. We are so fortunate to have great community partners.”

If there are food donations you would like to deliver to the school, East Central is happy to put the food to good use. Also, if you would like to contribute to East Central’s food pantry, you can help. Donate at helpinghandsendinghunger.org. On this site, please type in the “notes” section that you would like to make your

donation to East Central Elementary School. This ensures that any donation you make finds its way to a pantry that is feeding hungry children, right here at home