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Nordonia Hills -- For about two dozen school district students, a local program started by a mother and her daughters may be the difference as to whether they eat properly on weekends.
Knights Caring For Knights was started nearly a year ago by Sagamore Hills resident Anne Bruno and her daughters Michaela, who came up with the program's name, and Catherine.
"My high school kids are absolutely involved," said Bruno. "In fact, they pretty much run it now."
Bruno said that as of Feb. 6, there were 23 district students, spread out throughout the district's six buildings, receiving food every week.
"The idea is to provide them with breakfast, lunch and dinner on weekends," said Bruno, adding that building staff are the ones who identify the students who are in special need of help.
"From our perspective, it's 100 percent confidential," she said. "We have absolutely no idea who they are."
Food collection bins are in the lobbies of all six schools. Food and money is also collected at school events. There is a list of foods, including items that the students request, as well as food that is appropriate for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a snack. Bread is a staple that is always included. The program also seeks foods that even younger elementary school students can prepare for themselves, if necessary, and the Brunos ask that all donated foods be fresh and not past their sell by dates.
"I think that's our biggest problem," said Michaela.
Other than that, Catherine and Michaela said that the program has gotten a lot of support.
"Overall, it's been good," said Catherine, referring to donations. "I'm surprised it's continued, but it has."
"People understand the need," said Michaela, "and they understand that as long as they give, we can continue the program."
After school on Thursdays, Catherine, a junior, and Michaela, a freshman, go shopping at local grocery stores to buy food to fill in needed gaps. When they get home, they use a kind of assembly line system, with Catherine repeatedly moving along from one box of food to another in the basement as she puts the food into tote bags, one for each student.
Meanwhile, Michaela carries the bags upstairs, out to the garage and loads them into a car. The next morning, they take the bags to school with them. Some are distributed discretely to students there by staff, while a courier delivers the rest to the other buildings for staff to distribute as he makes his rounds on regular district business.
Bruno, who is president of the high school's parent teacher student association, said she got the idea early last year when District Pupil Services Director Margo Costello spoke to the PTSA about district students in need. Bruno said that while she knew that there are students who are eligible for the district's low-cost and free breakfast and lunch program, she learned that some of these students may not be getting enough to eat outside of school.
"It was just me being in the right place," she said.
She then went home and talked to her daughters about the issue.
"I was actually surprised. I didn't know we had such a high poverty level," said Michaela. "We have such a great district, great teachers and kids."
Catherine said she also saw a need, but initially had doubts about what they could do.
"I was surprised, too, but I thought it was going to be hard to get started," she said. "I thought it was going to be difficult, but it wasn't."
The Brunos did discover that they had a model to emulate, a similar program to what would become Knights Caring For Knights in the Akron Public Schools that they looked at it and adapted it to Nordonia.
Both girls said they hope that by the time they both have graduated, there will be others ready to step in and keep it going.
"We want to continue this. We don't want this to stop," said Michaela. "We want to make sure it stays alive because it's so beneficial."