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Letter carriers group donates to school food program

Photo Provided National Association of Letter Carriers Local 714 President Rich Kurnee, left, and Secretary-Treasurer Mark McVey donate $500 to the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District to assist its ongoing food distribution program for students left homebound due to the coronavirus. The organization has partnered with the school in the past to collect non-perishable goods for local food pantries, but this year’s events were halted by the outbreak. Officials decided to benefit the students with a financial contribution instead.

BRIDGEPORT — The Bridgeport Exempted Village School District received another contribution to supply its ongoing food program for students who are quarantined during the COVID-19 outbreak.

District Food Service Coordinator Donna Burlenski said the National Association of Letter Carriers Local 714 in Bridgeport, which includes United States Postal Service workers, gave $500 toward the program to feed more than 100 students each week. The donation is the latest in grants and other funding given through community and state programs.

“It’s unbelievable. It was so unexpected that they would help out,” Burlenski said. “We’re overwhelmed with the support we’re getting.”

The school district has garnered more than $3,000 in donations from community groups and grants since it began the food program about two months ago. Others include a $1,000 grant from the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and a $500 windfall from the Children’s Hunger Alliance of Ohio, and all of the money helps purchase food and supplies to provide pre-packaged meals to homebound students. Burlenski said weekly numbers have fluctuated between 120 and 150 pupils, but the latest figures showed 112 students were aided. She surmised that stimulus checks possibly helped families fill their pantries, but added that the program will continue to help as long as it’s needed.

NALC Local President Rich Kurnee said the organization, which represents Bridgeport, Bellaire and Powhatan Point, has worked with the school in the past to benefit the community and it was only right to provide some financial assistance for the students.

“We have a food drive every year and I involve the kids in the elementary, middle and high schools. The class with the biggest donation according to weight would get a pizza party,” he said. “This year, we weren’t having the food drive because of the coronavirus.”

That project has averaged about 3,200 pounds of food to benefit the community, while the NALC collected about 25 million pounds nationwide last year. Funding for the school program was initially designated for the organization’s annual trip to a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game which also was affected by the pandemic, so the NALC opted to contribute the money to Bridgeport’s weekly food distribution program instead.

“We thought we would help out and use the money for the free food program,” he noted, saying the 15-member group has also assisted area food banks associated with the Friendship Council of Churches to help local residents in need. “We felt it was a good thing to do.”

Superintendent Brent Ripley was also touched by the gesture, saying it will definitely make a difference.

“We appreciate that they came down to help the kids out and we’ve been able to keep this going,” Ripley noted. “It’s wonderful and it’s human kindness in a time of need.”

Bridgeport has provided meals since schools closed in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, and participating parents and guardians should contact the high school or elementary school on Fridays at 740-635-0853 and leave a message with the student’s name and grade level. Students receive a week’s supply of items which are picked up each Monday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in a designated area at the rear of the school building. Students receive five breakfasts and four lunches that meet nutritional guidelines.

Meanwhile, Burlenski was grateful to the volunteers who assist each week and keep the program going. She said 14-16 people from school teachers and staff to administrators and other individuals help pack the food and it shows how the community steps up to lend a hand. And despite the rise and fall of participants, Burlenski said the program will still help the children.

“Whoever calls, we will feed them,” she concluded.

For more information about the food program, contact the schools at 740-635-0853 or go online to bridgeportschools.net or @bpt_bulldogs on Twitter.

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