Cohen Children’s collects 1,000 pounds of food for Island Harvest

The Island Now
Mr. Rogers look alike Chris Kind (standing) helps second grade student Tianna Huggins and her mother Nistachia Belle, of Roosevelt, load some of the food collected for Island Harvest into a waiting truck. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

It truly was a beautiful day in the neighborhood at Cohen Children’s Medical Center when staff presented over 1,000 pounds of food for pick-up to representatives of Island Harvest.

The partnership with Island Harvest is the hospital’s latest approach to its Kohl’s Keeping Kids Healthy Program that works to reduce childhood obesity risk factors by addressing the connection between food insecurity and childhood obesity.

The presentation of the food was preceded by an introductory song delivered by Mr. Rogers’ look-alike, singer/actor Chris Kind. The food drive was set to coincide with National Good Neighbor Day, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, who said via proclamation, “Understanding, love and respect build cohesive families and communities.”

On hand to celebrate the culmination of the food drive was Debora Riccardi, DNP, RN, director of community health nursing at Cohen Children’s.

“We want to make sure we’re being good neighbors to food insecure children,” said Riccardi. “One of the best ways to do that is to feed children who might otherwise go hungry.”

Riccardi explained that Cohen Children’s partners with Island Harvest to implement the “Kids Weekend Backpack Feeding Program” in food insecure communities across Long Island. This program currently provides weekend snacks and meals to children who depend on school meals during the week.

“Each Friday during the school year, 1,695 children at risk for hunger at 26 participating schools from seven school districts receive nutritious, shelf-stable food for the weekend, which translates into 271,200 meals and snacks annually,” Riccardi said. “And we’re looking to make these numbers grow.”

Allison Puglia, vice president of programs and agency relations at Island Harvest, was also on hand to celebrate the successful food collection event. She recalled several instances of children expressing their gratitude for the weekly backpacks that helped feed entire families.

“Many children don’t know if they’ll have dinner at their home every night,” Puglia said. “I’ve heard many stories of children expressing their happiness at being able to share the contents of their backpack with their families. They’re joyful that the family can sit and enjoy a meal together.”

One family who can attest to the importance of Island Harvest food programs is Nistachia Belle, of Roosevelt, and her daughter, 7-year-old Tianna Huggins, a second-grader at Ulysses Byas School in Roosevelt.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to the backpack program…for the ways it’s helped my family,” Belle said. “There have been times when I wasn’t sure about dinner. Tianna is so happy to share what’s in her backpack with our family. We just want to say thank you.”

Tianna, who seemed to enjoy posing for photos with “Mr. Rogers,” agreed wholeheartedly with her mother. While munching on a package of pretzels, Tianna nodded her head and said, “This is a very good program. Thank you very much.”

Submitted by Northwell Health.

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