“A child’s chance for a brighter tomorrow starts with getting enough healthy food to eat today.” -- Lara DeNune, programs coordinator, Central PA Food Bank. Source: WASDEF

Williamsport — Williamsport Area School District students will be able to benefit from an upcoming casual Friday next month through a first-of-its-kind, community-wide event scheduled for Oct. 18.

The Williamsport Area School District Education Foundation (WASDEF) and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank (CPFB) are once again joining forces in the area’s first Dress Down for Williamsport Schools Day to raise funds in support of the district-wide Hybrid BackPack Program. The program not only provides a weekend’s worth of free meals to food-insecure students through the school year, it also allows students to access food during school time as needed.

Participation in the event is easy. Individuals and businesses can buy a $30 T-shirt and wear it on Friday, Oct. 18, to publicly display their support of the program. T-shirts, emblazoned with “This Shirt Feeds a Future” can be ordered now through Oct. 3 by visiting www.dressdown4wasd.com. “Every T-shirt sold will help feed 10 kids for one weekend,” said Lara DeNune, programs coordinator for CPFB. “A child’s chance for a brighter tomorrow starts with getting enough healthy food to eat today.”

During the 2018-2019 school year, more than 2,600 WASD students benefitted from the program through the distribution of more than 31,300 bags of food.

The program launched district-wide last school year, thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Williamsport-Lycoming Community and the Charles A. Szybist and Carla G. Szybist funds at the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.

“With the grant ending this school year, we are looking for funding to continue supporting the program,” said Greg Hayes, WASDEF executive director. “Last year’s numbers really show the significant impact this program has had on the district, and we’re so grateful for all of those involved who have made this so widely accessible. With more than half the student population benefitting from it, it’s clear that we need to work to keep that promise of food coming to these students who have come to rely on it.”

The two organizations worked through the summer months to develop the unique fundraiser. The nonprofits hope it will be successful enough to become an annual fundraising event to generate the $60,000 needed (or about 2,400 T-shirts sold) each year to fund the program. Donations are being accepted as well.

The program’s operation also relies on faith-based partners and a number of other civic-minded groups that have stepped forward to ensure bags were filled each week for distribution. 

“Hunger deprives children of more than just food. The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s youth programs give children and youth consistent access to enough nutritious food to excel,” said Pam Hicks, programs manager for CPFB. “We all have a role to play in getting food to children in need.”