DUTCHESS COUNTY, N.Y. -- A box of cereal can mean a lot to a hungry child.
One box can offer that child something to eat for breakfast for at least a week over the long summer months when they won't have access to the free breakfast offered at their school.
Dutchess County residents can help those hungry children by donating a box of cereal through the Cereal Counts! initiative started 13 years ago by Nancy and Dave Samson of Dutchess County.
The premise is simple -- local residents and organizations donate a box of cereal to the effort, the cereal is then donated to various local food banks who will pass it along to families in need.
Over the years, the initiative, which runs through May 7, has grown from a small effort into one in which the many businesses, faith organizations, clubs and sports teams have gotten behind.
"It's been incredibly gratifying to witness the response of our wider community as reflected both in the growing size of the collections every year and in the considerable positive feedback we have gotten from both donors and recipient pantries," said Nancy Samson.
In addition to the larger drives, school communities have begun running their own mini drives to teach students about hunger and those in need.
"Imagine with me -- all those elementary, middle and high school students learning about breakfast hunger and in a very tangible way, helping to reduce it. That's powerful," she said.
The couple's focus on cereal is because of the nutritional benefits it offers including calcium, iron, fiber, B-vitamins, folate, magnesium, zinc and more.
Samson said although some of the children and families receive nutrition assistance benefits (formerly food stamps), the amounts can be shockingly low and many seniors and children skip breakfast instead of paying at least $3 a box for cereal. And food pantries often run low on cereals during the summer months.
"The final collection every year has been larger than the previous year," she said. "Last year it was 1,100 boxes. I never set a specific target because I like to think that every box counts. Breakfast hunger is real, it's intolerable and it's something we can effectively address together, one box, one meal at a time."
The central drop-off site for the cereal is Temple Beth El at 118 South Grand Ave., in the City of Poughkeepsie. Their hours are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Fridays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon.
When the program ends in May, the following food pantries will receive the cereal:
- Dutchess Outreach
- Zion Episcopal Church in Wappingers Falls
- Community Action Partnership for their pantries in Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Red Hook and Dover
- Reach Out Church in Hyde Park
- Beulah Baptist Church
- Hudson River Housing/Gannett House
- Morse Magnet Elementary School Pantry
- Interfaith Senior Housing
- Pleasant Valley Ecumenical Food Pantry