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Above And Beyond

GCS Gives Away 12 Tons Of Produce

Every Wednesday beginning at 8 a.m., Gowanda Central School is giving away hundreds of 20-pound boxes of produce to anyone who wants one. Submitted photos

GOWANDA — It would have been easier for Gowanda Central School cafeteria manager Amy Lineberger to make basic boxed lunches every day.

It would have been easier for Lineberger to make families come to the school to pick them up. It would have been easier for Lineberger to provide food for Gowanda students only. But Lineberger isn’t interested in doing the bare minimum for the students or the community she serves. In her words, “I just love to feed people; I really do.”

To that end, Lineberger and her staff have gone above and beyond to keep students and the community fed. Rather than simple sandwiches, she and her staff have made turkey and stuffing, pizza, hamburgers, meatloaf sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and pulled pork.

Up until June, meals have been bussed home to students, and now through June 24, there are six pick-up sites available for families to fill their coolers. Those who can’t, still have food delivered by bus, teachers’ aides and school resource officer Ben Shields.

Not only are students fed, but “I can feed anyone who’s 18 and under living in the household,” said Lineberger, so even those who homeschool or have very young children can receive meals from the district.

Each 20-pound box includes a four-pound bag of oranges, a five-pound bag of potatoes, three pounds of apples, three pounds of onions, two pounds of carrots, and three pounds of a green vegetable such as broccoli, green cabbage or peppers.

Now, Lineberger has expanded her mission by applying for and receiving the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box grant, which allows her to give away approximately 800 boxes (20 pounds each) of fresh produce to anyone who wants it every Wednesday.

“I heard about this from Cornell Cooperative Extension,” Lineberger said. “Any school district or non-profit can participate. I’ve been referring people every day.” As part of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program, the USDA is partnering with national, regional and local suppliers who have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses, to buy up to $461 million in fresh produce through June 30.

Produce wholesaler James Desiderio, Inc. of Buffalo has already made three large weekly deliveries to Gowanda and will continue to do so through the end of the month, unless the program is extended. Each week, Desiderio’s assembles 20-pound boxes that each contain a four-pound bag of oranges, a five-pound bag of potatoes, three pounds of apples, three pounds of onions, two pounds of carrots, and three pounds of a green vegetable such as broccoli, green cabbage or peppers.

Every Wednesday beginning at 8 a.m., Lineberger and about a dozen staff members begin distributing the boxes outside of Gowanda Middle School. They distribute until they run out or until 1 p.m. Any boxes left over are brought out again at 4 p.m. “We got 400 boxes the first week, 800 boxes last week, and I’ve asked for another 800 this week,” said Lineberger. “The first week we did it, they were gone within half an hour. Last week when we did it, we still had 20 left over at 1 p.m. There was a line at 4 p.m., and they all went!”

Karen Speers, who homeschools her family in Collins, is very grateful for the school’s lunches and the produce boxes. “I lost 75% of my income, and unemployment is not picking it up,” she said. “This has just made it feel like nothing is wrong.”

She and her family have enjoyed getting creative with their produce boxes and have tried many new recipes, including variations of vegetable stews, roasted cabbage, Ethiopian cabbage and more.

“These additions to our meal make everything feel like such a celebration! Amy is going above and beyond. She’s connecting our community in ways we probably wouldn’t see otherwise.”

The boxes are available to anyone who wants one — not just district residents. Lineberger said, “I’m so over-the-moon excited about it. Everyone’s trying so hard to make ends meet. These are staples that people can use, and we’re helping the farmers who haven’t been able to get things into grocery stores or restaurants.”

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