COSI, Franklin Food Bank, Team Up To ‘Feed Minds And Feed Lives’

UP, UP, AND AWAYStephen White of COSI uses a model rocket to make a point during one of his presentations to students at Pine Grove Manor School on March 31.

Students at Pine Grove Manor Elementary School were the beneficiaries March 31 of a special partnership between the Franklin Food Bank and an Ohio-based science museum.

The museum, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), has for the past two years deployed representatives to bring to schools its “Learning Lunchbox” program, which is designed to push Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) concepts.

And on the last day of March, it was Pine Grove Manor’s turn, which incidentally was COSI’s first foray into New Jersey.

Stephen White, COSI’s chief strategy officer, led two presentations before groups of very excited and very noisy Pine Grove students. The students cheered and clapped when White showed the how to “make a cloud” (mixing dry ice with water) and also “launching a rocket” by dropping a fizzy tablet into a film canister filled with water and waiting for the pressure to build up.

The theme of this Learning Lunchbox is NASA’s upcoming Artemis moon exploration, White said.

One important aspect of the program is a partnership with a local food bank or pantry, White said. Enter the Franklin Food Bank.

With the Learning Lunchbox, White said, COSI targets “families and youth, and we partner with food banks.”

“The goal is to help feed hungry minds and feed hungry lives, especially around times like Spring break, when we know we want to accelerate learning,” he said.

The reason COSI partnered with NASA, White said, was to be able to tell kids “you, too have a place in space, you have a place in STEM.”

The lunchbox has more than 10 hours’ worth of content, White said. He said the hope is that the students do the activities over Spring break, which starts April 3.

“We include everything the kids need to do the activities,” he said.

Among the activities in the lunchbox are launching a rocket, making a moon base, and learning about asteroid impacts on the moon, he said.

“They even get their own certificate from NASA once they complete their kits,” he said.

The program’s goal, White said, “was to create a resource that could help accelerate learning. We know there are some challenges around Covid.”

“We also know that diversity in STEM is a challenge, so we include resources to help showcase the diversity in STEM, to say if that person who looks like me can do it, I can do it too,” White said.

The Franklin Food Bank’s executive director, Derrick Smith, had a background in education before he took the food bank’s helm.

Smith said that events such as pandemics, with their school closings and isolation, result in “academic slide.” The COSI program, he said seeks to reverse that.

“Connecting it with food banks was brilliant,” he said.

Especially in the Pine Grove Manor neighborhood, where Smith said many of the Food Bank’s clients live.

“Where there’s high free and reduced lunch, kids don’t have access to food over the weekends and over the break,” he said. “So why don’t we put a kit together that gives them the opportunity to eat all the way through this break and educate their kids all through this break?”

The Food Bank brought pallets of boxed food to give to parents as they picked up their children at the end of the school day. Each car received two boxes, one with perishable items such as produce, and one with non-perishable items, Smith said.

Smith said he and Food Bank volunteers will be at the school again from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 1 handing out more boxes of food.

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