A hopeful third grader asked Charleroi Reading Specialist Kathy Franks a question that would determine the kind of weekend he would have. It could give him energy, help him focus, help with sports and schoolwork, and maybe more importantly, assure him that someone cares about him. His question was, “Is the Harvest’s Bounty box coming today?” “Yes,” she assured him. He ran off, happily anticipating a fruit cup, breakfast bar, mac and cheese, Ramen noodles, and maybe a little more.
More than 200 children in Charleroi depend on Harvest’s Bounty. “My parents don't always have the money we need,” one student admitted. “When we run out of food, we get into my Harvest's Bounty bag.”
Mrs. Franks, who does afternoon bus duty, says it’s not unusual for a child to get on the bus, only to realize he or she has forgotten their food bag. Teachers believe the food serves such an important purpose that they will hold the bus while the child runs back to get it. “You can’t teach them if they don’t feel safe, aren’t fed, or don’t feel love and support,” she said. “How can they pass a test if they are hungry?”
Since Charleroi has such a high percentage of economically disadvantaged families, every child gets breakfast and lunch at school. But for many, it’s a long 68 hours between Friday lunch and Monday breakfast.
“I knew we had kiddos in need,” Mrs. Franks explained. “I heard about three children alone all night, and their only food was uncooked rice and condiments. Then someone at church said, ‘When you see a need, do something!’ And I said ‘OK!’” School Librarian Becky Spiker agreed: “Hearing stories gives me goosebumps. Making sure the kids have kid-friendly food has been in my heart since then.”
Charleroi was once a thriving city, but the steel mills and the glass factory left. “The Charleroi I knew as a youngster is not the Charleroi I know now,” Mrs. Franks says. “It was a thriving city; now so many businesses are gone.” Now, there are three factories that employ legal immigrants from Haiti and China. Many of those children are candidates for Harvest’s Bounty, but as Mrs. Franks said, “Those children are so grateful.”
Funding comes from a yearly craft show, along with donations from organizations, individuals, churches, civic organizations, the WCCF, and sometimes grateful parents who once needed them. “A parent walked up and tucked a $50 bill into my hand,” Mrs. Franks remembered. “She said, ‘You helped us when we were in a rough patch. We’re doing better now, and I want to give back.’ That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
“My heart is happy,” Mrs. Spiker said, “because I know we’re doing what we need to do for our kiddos and that’s important.”
Mrs. Franks agreed. “I know I can put my head on my pillow at night knowing there is one less kiddo going hungry because of that bag.”
Both agree that there is another important component: Love. “It’s a labor of love,” they both laugh, “We say that all the time.”
The Washington County Community Foundation’s Dr. Howard Jack Outstanding Public Educator Award recognizes local public educators who have displayed the ability to inspire children from all backgrounds and abilities, who have earned the respect of colleagues, students and parents, and who are actively engaged in the community. The award, which was presented to the members of the Harvest’s Bounty team earlier this year, included a $1,000 grant to the Charleroi Area School District Foundation for the Harvest’s Bounty program.