A New Kind of Food Drive For Migrant Families

Nov 25, 2019

Cans of food on display at the YCP 'grocery store'.
Credit YCP / JMU

A preschool food drive in Harrisonburg takes a different approach to helping families in need, while teaching children how to help others. WMRA’s Bridget Manley reports.

[Parents and students picking out foods…]

It’s an early morning in the hallway of the Young Children’s Program, or YCP, at James Madison University.

The preschool has been collecting non-perishable food items for about a month for migrant families in Harrisonburg.  But this food drive is a little different.  The groceries are displayed on tables resembling a makeshift “grocery store.”  Parents and kids are given a box to decorate and then fill with foods.

PARENT: Do you want to put some salt in there? Or some beans or rice?

Each child gets a sheet with the number of family members and the ages of the children. The kids then “shop” for items based on what they think each family needs.

Boxes of food are prepared individually for each migrant family at the YCP food drive.
Credit YCP / JMU

It’s the YCP Grocery Store - the brainchild of administrators at the both the YCP and the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Program, and it’s in its second year. For both organizations, the food drive is invaluable. Migrant families receive boxes full of food during the holidays, and the preschoolers feel more connected.

PAT KENNEDY: I think it teaches the children about being part of a community, and how we contribute to that community. It teaches them about sharing, it teaches them respect for other people, and just that ability to see beyond their own little worlds.

Pat Kennedy is the Director of the YCP. She says the idea of a “grocery store” for the preschoolers to pick foods to give to others fits perfectly into the curriculum at the YCP, where fostering community goes hand in hand with real-life experiences.

KENNEDY: This month we are working on Dr. Ken Ginsburg’s Seven C’s of Resiliency, and the C for this month is contribution. Right? I matter, and I can help people and make a difference. So, this is a real good hands-on experience for the children, seeing that they do matter and [can do] some of the things that can make a difference in their community.

Pat Kennedy is director of the Young Children's Program at JMU.
Credit YCP / JMU

The kids at the YCP love filling their boxes. They get to pick out a variety of foods, sometimes making up the names of foods when they don’t recognize them.

STUDENT: So we put in some of these…

REPORTER: What are those?

STUDENT: These are kind of like raisins…and they are, but they are seed raisins and you can eat them too. And my mother put in some cereal, that’s yum.

The grocery store idea pairs well with the primary mission of the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Program, which is to help migrant students here obtain education. SVMP works with families who have moved to the area in the last three years, and helps with tutoring, literacy programs, interpreting, and other services.

Olga Baltazar is a Family Advocate for the SVMP. She works with families that have children ranging from infants to high schoolers.

She says that the need is great during this time of year, especially when children are out of school for extended periods of time.

OLGA BALTAZAR: I would say the challenges and the ‘why’ we are doing this is families are just like ‘oh, my kid is gonna go to school, is gonna get food there.’ But then over Thanksgiving break or Christmas break, students are home, but the parents are still at work. They don’t have healthy snacks at home, they don’t have someone to cook for them, so hopefully with this help from the YCP Program, we will be able to provide a pantry box that will last them for a little while, and there will be healthy items that they don’t necessarily have to cook. 

Nancy Resendiz is the family and migrant coordinator with the SVMP.

SVMP coordinators Olga Baltazar, Ariana Correa, and Nancy Resendiz deliver the boxes to migrant families in the Valley.
Credit YCP / JMU

NANCY RESENDIZ: They are really appreciative of it. I know that some of our kids whose moms work night shift and aren’t available, the kids just run through that. Because we got back and see them - like, before we go out for Christmas break, and the kids are just running through these items because they are not in school. So I know they appreciate it. So, I think that’s what most rewarding to us, that they have something, that they are actually using it, and that they appreciate it.

STUDENT: We need to give migrant families food, because they don’t have enough food.

The preschoolers seem to be learning the lesson of giving, one colorful box at a time.