Fighting Hunger

Pheasant Lane Mall helps soup kitchen

Telegraph photo by MATHEW PLAMONDON After collecting food from the Meals For Kids drop-off kiosk at the Pheasant Lane Mall, Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter Executive Director Michael Reinke carries the items to his vehicle.

NASHUA – “A lot of people are really surprised to learn that 40 percent of the kids in the Nashua Public Schools are getting free or reduced lunch – that’s a huge number.” Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter Executive Director Michael Reinke said.

With the shelter working to expand its Meals for Kids Program, officials now have more partners in those who run the Pheasant Lane Mall.

With a kiosk for donations set up in the vestibule next to Buffalo Wild Wings, the nonprofit and one of the community’s largest shopping centers hope to not only collect donations from shoppers, but also provide information on childhood hunger.

“We wanted to partner with a community group like this, and just raise awareness that people in our community, kids especially, are going to bed hungry,” mall Assistant Marketing Director Elizabeth Altvater said.

The drop-off location is only one part of the partnership, which started in mid-December. The soup kitchen will also have information at the kiosk, while organizers will be setting up information tables during the mall’s major events so shoppers and attendees can donate and learn about what they can do to help eliminate childhood hunger.

Telegraph photo by MATHEW PLAMONDON Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter Executive Director Michael Reinke collects food from the Meals For Kids drop-off kiosk at the Pheasant Lane Mall. The soup kitchen and mall have teamed up to provide a location at which donors can give non-perishable food to the program.

“We’re going to have a little bit of information by the kiosk that people can pick up and say, ‘Hey, I want to learn a little more about Nashua Meals for Kids, hunger in Nashua, hunger in New Hampshire, and what can I do about it,'” Reinke said. “It’s a place where we can both provide an opportunity and also provide information to inform people.”

Since the kiosk was installed a little more than a month ago, Reinke said 200 pounds of food have already been donated to the cause. Reinke said he expects the kiosk to continue to collect donations. Having the drop-off location is a great opportunity, considering the volume of people who go to the mall, he said.

Altvater said mall officials believe the location of the kiosk will draw plenty of traffic for donations because it is at one of the shopping complex’s busiest entrances.

“So a lot of people come to the property two or three times a month. If they’re coming through that entrance once, and they notice it out of the corner of their eye,” Altvater said, “the hope is that the next time they are clearing out their pantry, they remember that.”

Statistics from City-Data.com state that 14.6 percent of children living Nashua fall below the poverty line – a percentage that is twice as high as the statewide rate.

On a broader spectrum, there were 10,200 children classified as “food insecure” throughout Hillsborough County in 2016, according to Feeding America’s website. Of those children, 42 percent were likely ineligible for federal nutrition programs such as the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP). This is due to the incomes of their families being declared too high.

Meals for Kids, which is currently distributing as many as 900 meals per week to Dr. Norman W. Crisp Elementary School, the Title 1 Pre-School at Fairgrounds Elementary, the Nashua Police Athletic League, and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua, has been able to reach up to 200 children per week.

With the kiosk and information provided at the mall, the program hopes to expand its reach. Reinke said through the partnership with mall, the soup kitchen will be able to set up tables at events to take donations and provide families and customers with more information on all facets of food insecurity, including childhood hunger.

The first event the nonprofit will be tabling at will be the mall’s April 6 Disney Junior event. The soup kitchen will follow that with being present at mall’s holiday photo events, including the Easter Bunny photo opportunities.

“That’s a a great way to capture the attention of families, while they are waiting in line,” Altvater said, “so they’ll be coming during the busiest weekend of our Easter photo event.”

For more information on the soup kitchen, visit http://www.nsks.org. Those who are interested in assisting can reach the shelter at 603-889-7770, ext. 135, or by email at volunteer@nsks.org.