CORA expands age group for SNACK! program

Posted 6/2/21

Following the posting of a complaint in a popular Chatham Facebook group, CORA — Chatham Outreach Alliance — updated its SNACK! Program age requirements to include more school-aged children in …

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CORA expands age group for SNACK! program

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Following the posting of a complaint in a popular Chatham Facebook group, CORA — Chatham Outreach Alliance — updated its SNACK! Program age requirements to include more school-aged children in its services.

The Facebook post, published May 19 by Chatham resident Veronica McPherson, raised concerns with the program’s 5- to 17-year-old age requirement. This range left out older students, McPherson wrote, such as her 19-year-old daughter who is disabled and still in high school.

Later that evening, CORA’s Executive Director Melissa Driver Beard responded, thanking McPherson for her post and explaining that the age parameters for SNACK — Summer Nutritional Assistance for Chatham Kids — were originally put in place to serve school-aged students when school “backpack” programs pause during the summer.

“Perhaps it is time we reconsider that,” Beard wrote in the Facebook “Caremongering Pittsboro” group less than three hours after McPherson’s post. “It’s possible the age restrictions should be changed. ...I’ll admit in the absence of better information, we’ve continued to run the program as it is. Not being a fan of ‘doing things the way we always have,’ I’m happy to consider change and would be happy to delve further into the issue with you.”

Since then, the SNACK program — which provides participating children with 21 nutritious meals each week from mid-June through mid-August — updated its age requirements. Now, students as young as 3 and as old as 19 can qualify, given they’re enrolled in school, with students of any age eligible for registration.

“I want to thank Melissa Driver Beard and CORA Food Pantry for taking the time to listen to my concerns and work with me,” McPherson posted May 25. “Adjusting the age requirement of the SNACK program will help to make some families’ lives a little less stressful!”

The SNACK program has been operating for 12 years. During that time, CORA’s offered as many as 21 pickup locations in the county; last year, there were five pickup spots and this year the organization plans to offer 11.

After Beard discovered the Facebook complaint, she said she “just immediately responded.”

“That was just a very honest, transparent response,” she said. “As I said in my response to Veronica, I don’t believe in continuing to do things just because we’ve always done them that way. And I did believe that it was a little bit of a technicality that, if there are children that are older or younger, who were enrolled in school and need assistance, that we can bend that way.”

Several community members thanked Beard for her reply.

“Great response Melissa,” commented Jaime Detzi, who lives in Chatham and is the director of Chatham Education Foundation. “You are always willing to find ways to make things better.”

“Wonderful response.... Helpful, informative and gracious!” County Commissioner Karen Howard posted from her personal Facebook page. “Thank you for what you are doing.”

In Chatham County, 50% of public school children receive free or low-cost meals, CORA’s website says, leaving more than 4,450 school children in Chatham without “adequate replacements for these meals during the summer in 2021.”

Families can register for the SNACK program on a Google form on CORA’s website, which is in English and Spanish. Registration runs through June 14, when food pick-ups start, but Beard said people can also enroll on-site.

CORA offers several programs besides SNACK, including its food pantry, celebration station, Commodity Supplemental Food Program and Emergency Food Assistance Program. Beard emphasized that people of all ages can get food if they need it, even if they don’t qualify for SNACK.

“You don’t have to rely on a summer program for help,” she said.

While this language change in the SNACK requirements is a relatively minor one, it reflects myriad changes CORA implemented over the last year and a half during the pandemic.

CORA’s new building in Pittsboro is nearly complete; the organization is exploring hybrid and online shopping models that might remove additional barriers for clients.

“We’re really trying to think about how to better serve the community and better be a resource for those that we do serve,” Beard said. “And so I think we’ve really embraced this year of change and are gonna roll with that.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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