A substantial grant secured by a local businessman will allow Solanco Neighborhood Ministries to provide fresh fruit, vegetables, and cheese to nearly 300 school children every week.
The grant, facilitated by Verizon Wireless store owner Bashar Abdo, will allow the ministries' weekend food program to buy oranges, apples, grapes, carrots, and cheese for 280 students, said Teresa Dolan.
Dolan, the ministries' director, said the $8,000 grant will allow the nonprofit to buy the produce, something it has not been able to do for several years.
"Two years ago, we had an individual donate enough money to do that, but we haven't been able to do that on our own since then," Dolan said.
The funding came through a grant program established by the Wireless Zone Foundation through Giving, Abdo said.
"They recommend we donate a percentage of money we get from every phone sale and then that goes into the foundation's general fund. For the past two years, we have been able to give $1,000 a year to the ministries from that fund. This year, the foundation also approved a project grant for the fresh fruit and vegetables and that provided $8,000 in addition to the annual grants," he said.
He chose Neighborhood Ministries because he has admired what it did and wanted to be able to assist them, Abdo said.
The weekend food program for students is an extension of the ministries' food bank. It provides take-home meals for students who are eligible for free school lunches.
It now serves nearly 300 students from Solanco's four elementary schools, Penn Manor's Martic Elementary School, as well as sixth graders from Solanco's two middle schools.
Until the ministries received the grant funding, it was only able to provide nonperishble food items for the weekend program.
"With the grant, we will be able to provide fresh fruit and produce every week and dairy items twice a month," Dolan said. She anticipates the fresh items will include apples, oranges, bananas, cheese sticks, and some vegetables.
The first fresh food will go home with students on Friday, February 7. There is enough money to continue the program through the end of this school year and into the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The ministries will also send home menus children can cook for themselves.
The grant also paid for a new freezer unit for the ministries.
"It replaces two older freezers that were so old their doors would no longer seal," Dolan said.
The grant will also lead to additional cooperation between the ministries and the store.
"We have been donating backpacks before school starts. We've been doing that for several years. Now we're planning to work with Neighborhood Ministries and combine our work with their backpack program," Abdo said.