Seniors Will Schad, Anna Murphy, and Kathryn McLoughlin sorting food donations with advisor Sara Dziedzic in FRESH’s food pantry on The Woodstock Academy’s South Campus. Courtesy photo.

WOODSTOCK —  In 2010 a group of students, along with social studies teacher and department chair Sara Dziedzic, started Family Related Effective Solutions for Humanity (FRESH) to address concerns of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity in the towns surrounding The Woodstock Academy. Eight years later the organization has developed into a sustainable non-profit assisting residents of northeastern Connecticut. FRESH’s newest initiative is the Caring Continues Food Pantry that feeds families and veterans in Woodstock. The program was born when Anne Miller, executive director of TEEG, approached both FRESH and Woodstock Evangelical Covenant Church about partnering to address food insecurity in Woodstock. The partnership was well timed because with the addition of the South Campus, FRESH was able to designate a room in the South Campus Student Center to collect and sort food donations for the food pantry.
Senior Anna Murphy, who has been a member of FRESH since her freshman year, said they knew there was food insecurity in the area, but the program quickly grew to a scale much larger than they had originally anticipated.  Dziedzic shared, “We originally thought that we would have 12 families, and we now have 60.”
Will Schad, a senior from Pomfret who has lead the Caring Continues initiative, said it “introduced me to the economic problems in this part of the state.” Schad added, “It’s taught us about organization.” Each week Schad works with Murphy to organize their peers and members of FRESH to unpack, sort, and deliver donations. Donations come from local churches, the WA community, and now, as the program has grown, a majority of the donations come from United Natural Foods Inc. and Daily Bread in Putnam. Members of WECC pack bags for each family weekly and the bags are delivered through Woodstock Public Schools.
 “The first year was a learning curve and about survival,” said Dziedzic. “I don’t think you realize how expensive it is until you have to buy it. Thankfully, Dave Magee [Associate Pastor at Woodstock Evangelical Covenant Church] worked hard at getting the United Natural Foods donation, and this, along with Daily Bread in Putnam, allowed us to maintain this program.”
Murphy has spent the past semester in an independent study with Dziedzic creating a plan to make Caring Continues sustainable. “Now we are looking at ways to improve distribution and how to best serve the families in need, but it was hard to get us here” said Dziedzic. “The easiest thing about this was The Academy support. FRESH students fully embraced this program” Dziedzic added.
In addition to Caring Continues FRESH organized a back to school supply drive for local middle schools and a sock and underwear drive to donate to TEEG to benefit the local homeless population.
As a student-run organization FRESH also aims to raise awareness among students about homelessness in Northeast Connecticut. FRESH has partnered with Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and earlier this year the group hosted a homelessness awareness movie night on South Campus.
At Halloween the group reverse did reverse trick-or-treating where they knocked on doors and delivered goodies.
FRESH also provides scholarships for local elementary and middle school students to attend area summer camps and programs. This year FRESH donated a total of $7,000 for camperships to CT Audubon in  Pomfret,  Capen Hill Nature Sanctuary, TEEG, Brooklyn Recreation Department, and the Hale YMCA Youth and Family Center.
Dziedzic shared that because of FRESH’s local focus, “the students [in FRESH] are able to see the impact that they have when they deliver camp scholarships or mentor students.”
In addition to goods donated by the community, FRESH’s efforts are supported by funds raised through a three-on-three basketball tournament, selling final exam care packages, and a spaghetti supper which this year raised about $5,000. 

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