By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Remember the elation of knowing summer vacation was just around the corner?
As a kid, there was nothing better than knowing the hot, sticky days of June instruction were about to give way to long afternoons of kickball and tag. But what if that break from work had come with the knowledge that you could spend the next 10 weeks feeling hungry?
Instead of excitement, many local kids from struggling families face summer vacation with apprehension.
They usually eat lunch for free, or very cheaply, at school. During the summer, nutritious meals are harder to come by. Many Schenectady-area families suffer uncertainty over where their next meals might come from.
To combat this problem, the Schenectady Inner City Ministry runs a summer lunch program where food is freely available at about two dozen locations around the city.
The program is winding down for 2014 after serving nearly 70,000 meals. As school restarts, the organization’s focus is shifting back to its year-round emergency food pantry.
To help make sure the pantry is stocked, the Niskayuna Co-Op pitched in with its second-annual SICM Carnival fundraiser to help protect families in need. Volunteers raised more than $500 at the carnival, which included a silent auction, a raffle for prizes from local vendors, tastings, a small farmers market and a bounce house for kids.
“We’ve done fairly well,” said Shirley Reddean, SICM’s board president. She spent the carnival sitting behind the raffle table with two Summer Lunch Program interns, greeting visitors and raising money.
Every dollar donated, she said, would buy the equivalent of two meals at the emergency food pantry. In 2013, the pantry served 468,297 meals, nearly 4 percent more than in the previous year.
Toni Boughton, the Co-Op’s front end manager, coordinated with local vendors and Co-Op staff to make sure the second-annual carnival was successful.
“When you give, you get ten times back,” she said. “The Co-Op’s based on that.”
Boughton worked with SICM to draft a letter asking for raffle and silent auction donations. Nearby retailers, such as Niskayuna Wine & Liquors, Niskayuna Barber Shop, TCBY, Uncle Rico’s Pizza, Chris’s Coffee, Starbucks and many others donated prizes, which Boughton wrapped up in colorful baskets from the Co-Op.
“When you win, you win big,” she said, adding that the generosity from the Co-Op’s neighbors was overwhelming.
In addition to the fundraiser itself, the carnival provided a way to raise awareness for SICM among its Niskayuna neighbors.
“It’s a great way to showcase what SICM is and SICM does,” said Janet Mattis, the organization’s community outreach and internship coordinator. “People are already out shopping and stop by.”
The Co-Op also provides weekly food donations to SICM and encourages its customers to donate their refunds from bottle returns to the organization.
Boughton said she was happy with the way the fundraiser turned out, but planned to make some adjustments to make it even more successful next year. For example, they’ll move the carnival a couple of weeks into July in hopes of increasing attendance.
The former nurse said her dedication to the fundraiser really comes from a desire to serve others and make their lives easier and happier.
“We’re put on this earth to help each other out,” Boughton said. “When you reach a hand to somebody else, they’re going to reach out and grab yours.”