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School nutrition growing priority for Education Foundation

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Paul Batson, pastor at First Baptist Church of Elizabeth City, discusses the ECP Backpacks program during the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Education Foundation's 30th annual banquet at the Carolina Center, Thursday.

012619 Education Foundation
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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools' students should want for neither knowledge nor nutrition, and the ECPPS Education Foundation continues working to see that they don't.

The foundation highlighted and celebrated its support for ECPPS students during its 30th annual banquet, held Thursday night at the Carolina Center north of Elizabeth City.

During the event, foundation President Tony Flach explained the nonprofit has long raised money for supporting ECPPS' academics, but has tried to help students more comprehensively in recent years. School safety has been a big priority, with Flach noting about $171,000 of the $630,000 the foundation has raised in the last five years has gone to the SAFE Schools Fund started by restaurateurs Andy and Karin Montero, who also catered Thursday's banquet.

The foundation has also raised about $78,000 for the ECP Backpacks Program, Flach said, reflecting a growing priority on school nutrition. Led by First Baptist Church Pastor Paul Batson, ECP Backpacks provides food packs meant to help students in need get through weekends, when they may go without sufficient and healthy food.

A keynote speaker at Thursday’s event, Batson recounted that ECPPS spokeswoman Tammy Sawyer and others launched ECP Backpacks several years ago as a pilot program for P.W. Moore Elementary School. Batson ran a similar program in Wilson, and, when he moved to Elizabeth City three years ago, he and Sawyer collaborated on how to expand the program to all ECPPS campuses, he said.

When children are under-fed or malnourished, it hurts them and their performance in school, Batson said. He also said research has shown it takes children a long time — and more than just one meal — to recover and have a good frame of mind for learning.

One study found that, when a child doesn't eat over the weekend, “it took, on average, until Tuesday, after lunch, to be able to really focus,” Batson said. “They lost a day and a half of school instruction because they were hungry.”

Batson also said that, when very young children are chronically under-fed, it can take years for them to recover academically.

While noting nutrition has a major impact on children's school days, Batson also noted that feeding children is not truly about improving test scores.

“If they went from not having food to having food and their test scores didn't rise a single point … it's still worth feeding children,” Batson said. “It's a moral issue to not feed children.”

To make ECP Backpacks work, Batson said churches rely on help from the Food Bank of the Albemarle, whose buying power helps drive down the costs of each weekend food pack to $6. Batson said ECP Backpacks could use a storage site other than the food bank, where volunteers have limited hours they can work without conflicting with food bank operations. If someone wants to donate space or money, or get more information on the program, Batson said they could call the church at 338-3904.

Flach also said the foundation is helping collect and oversee donations to the program.

The banquet's other keynote speaker was Leslie Otts, a regional school nutrition specialist for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and an ECPPS alumna. Otts explained she works with schools to ensure they're meeting guidelines about proper meals. Being properly fed ripples throughout a student's school day, improving their behavior and grades, and their ultimate success after school, she said.

Otts also discussed the history of school lunch programs, and how they've evolved to focus on providing healthier foods, and limit selling unhealthy “a la carte” items.

To further drive home the importance and quality of school meals, Flach and Andy Montero noted the banquet's food was based off of recipes used in schools — with desserts being the exception.

The banquet also allowed the foundation to celebrate its 30th birthday. Board member Doug Gardner recounted how the foundation was born because a mimeograph machine broke down in 1989 at Elizabeth City Middle School; mimeographs were predecessors of today's photocopiers. Money to address the problem wasn't readily available, leading Phil Donahue, Tom Nash and others to start fundraising for it, leading to the creation of the nonprofit foundation.

The banquet also recognized ECPPS' teachers and principal of the year, and included a performance by the Pasquotank County High School jazz band.

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