Wednesday was no day off for an Amherst mother who saw her Facebook post about providing free lunch to hungry youngsters explode into a movement to feed more than 100 children in Lorain County.
Amy Price, 41, said the calamity day was music to her 13-year-old son’s ears as his winter break would be one day longer.
But the phone call also got Price thinking.
“So many kids would not have access to breakfast or lunch if school is closed,” she said.
Price, a real estate broker and mother of three, decided to do something and turned to social media to spread the word about her plan.
“If you live in the Lorain County area and your kids depend on school-provided breakfast and lunch to be able to eat today and they do not have school, please inbox me,” she wrote on her personal Facebook page. “Someone from my company will drop some items off to you.”
Price encouraged her more than 1,400 friends to share her message. By 1 p.m., the shares topped 450 and Price had information on more than 100 children in need of meal in Elyria, Lorain, Oberlin and North Ridgeville.
“I wasn’t expecting the response to be what it was,” she said. “I knew there was some need in the community. This opened my eyes to the amount. I think I was really naïve to the level of need in this community.”
School officials said electing to close school is never easy because they know when students miss a day they miss out academically and otherwise.
“This is well-considered before a decision is made to close school,” said Oberlin Superintendent David Hall. “When we make the decision to close school, we consider all of our students’ academic and social situations. This is why we wait until we are absolutely sure it is the right decision, and it takes hours to make.”
While North Ridgeville Superintendent Jim Powell said he was not aware of this particular need in his district, he knows students go without in other areas of concern when faced with inclement weather.
“Many of our students don’t have warm coats, gloves, etc., and it doesn’t take long for them to have exposure in this type of cold,” he said. “I also understand the need for them to have a good diet. It is a hard balance when making these decisions.”
School food programs are vitally important, Elyria Superintendent Tom Jama said.
“Public school districts have most certainly become an all-encompassing entity that meets the needs of children beyond their educational requirements,” he said. “We aim to meet their needs on virtually every level, including clothing and meals. When school buildings close, food services also close, which can in fact create a hardship for a child who depends on the school district for breakfast and lunch.”
In these circumstances, Jama said he is especially grateful when community partners step in to help residents and children.
“This is the bedrock of a healthy community, where neighbors help neighbors,” he said.
The need Price witnessed is not surprising, said Julie Chase-Morefield, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio.
“Across Lorain County there are kids relying on the free and reduced lunch program to eat each day,” she said.
Chase-Morefield said hundreds of youngsters in Lorain County also participate in the agency’s Backpack Program, which allows elementary students to take home backpacks full of nonperishable food items each Friday to carry them through the weekend. Schools try to add extra items on days before long breaks, but they know there is no way they can feed students for prolonged periods of time.
Lisa Licht, principal at Elyria’s Franklin Elementary School, said Price’s generosity was fantastic.
“I was so moved she was doing this,” she said. “I do think about my students when we don’t have school because I am sure many of my families count on our meals.”
Chase-Morefield said the long winter break also translates to more need seen in local food pantries.
“It is a big deal when they have to provide so many extra meals in the month on top of higher utility costs to heat homes and higher child-care costs,” she said. “Parents know for a week or two they will not have those school meals and that’s when we see an uptick in food pantry use. It makes sense when you think about the fact that 40 percent of who we serve in food pantries is children — families with kids.”
Price said her small gesture of delivering cheeseburgers and French fries from the Lorain McDonald’s restaurant on Broadway near state Route 2 allowed her to not only see the need in the community, but also Lorain County’s generous spirit. Her inbox was flooded with messages from those also willing to help with food items or monetary donations. Price said she may consider doing something similar in the future and is happy to know others would help.
“It’s amazing how so many people were willing to step up,” she said, adding that she enlisted her husband, son and daughter to help make deliveries. “It was just this small thing I wanted to do that showed this big need in the community.”
Chase-Morefield said it also raises a good question.
“What do kids like this do on days like this, and what can we as a community do to solve the problem?” she said. “I know its cold outside, but there has to be a way to get kids food.”