Even when the online “mute” button is on, sometimes a growling stomach can still be heard.
Teachers may see the worry of hunger scrawl across a student’s face onscreen. They may notice the student’s lack of attention; it’s hard to focus when you’re hungry.
Many educators are teaming up with other groups to help alleviate the hunger being felt in larger numbers than ever. In Western New York, the Area Labor Federation is working with a host of NYSUT teacher unions to raise $50,000 by the end of the March for FeedMore WNY, a nonprofit formed by the merger of the Food Bank of WNY and Meals on Wheels of WNY.
In the first month of the three-month “Labor Cares” campaign, nearly $25,000 has been raised — the vast majority from teacher unions including Williamsville TA, Lancaster Central TA, Frontier Central TA, West Seneca TA, Kenmore TA and Bolivar-Richburg FA.
Local union presidents from the Erie County Council of Teacher Union Presidents jumped on board the fundraising project to help families in the Erie County region. Some teaching colleagues have lost jobs or have had spouses who have lost jobs. Many School-Related Professionals have lost jobs or have had their hours greatly reduced due to the pandemic.
Richard Lipsitz, president of the labor federation, said these organizations decided to raise money for families in need at this time because food banks are often depleted after the holidays.
“NYSUT’s an important part of our local federation,” he said. “We feel the unions have an important role to play. We can reach out to the working class better than anyone else.”
“Everybody understands there’s always food insecurity, particularly after the holidays, but there is more with the pandemic. Different people have found themselves out of work,” said Amber Chandler, an eighth-grade ELA teacher and president of the Frontier Central Teachers Association.
While this suburban local has just about 400 members, in one month the local has already raised $3,355. Chandler said the local’s campaign has been almost entirely via social media, and she has also used the FTA’s notification app to alert members about the project.
“The impact of the pandemic, and the amount of trauma people are experiencing, is going to take years to process and correct,” Chandler said. “It’s nice to do something when you feel powerless.”
“This really hit home,” said Joe Cantafio, teacher, West Seneca TA president, and ALF general vice president. Families of students, co-workers, friends, and CSEA colleagues working as cleaners, bus drivers and aides, have lost jobs or had hours cut, he said.
The area used to be strong on industries such as steel, but now there are more jobs in the service industry. As stores have taken a hit from the pandemic, more people have lost hours or entire jobs.
West Seneca TA has already raised more than $5,000, and Cantafio credits math teacher and union treasurer Craig Ersing for devising a matching donation plan approved by the board. The union will match the equivalent of $5 per member. More than 200 members have already donated, including retirees.