Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Clarkson University Professor Helps Run Potsdam Neighborhood Center Summer Lunch Program

Everywhere he has lived, Clarkson University Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Ali Boolani has strived to help feed the children in his community.

Boolani and his daughter would spend weekends preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to distribute to children in need when they lived in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Georgia and Louisiana. After arriving in Potsdam, N.Y. in 2014, he approached the Potsdam Neighborhood Center about starting a PB&J program there.

Boolani said his community supported him when he was growing up as an immigrant in the United States, so he wants to give back to the next generation. By volunteering with his daughter, he hopes to share an appreciation for helping others.

"My goal is to be there for the kids because somewhere someone was there for me," he said.

The PB&J program this year is supplying 25 lunches per day, five days a week throughout July and part of August while school is out for the summer. Lunches include sandwiches, fruit, a cracker snack, yogurt and water, and the meals are distributed through the Pine Street Arena Recreation program.

Potsdam Neighborhood Center Director Daisy Cox said unlike areas with more concentrated populations, the North Country faces a summer feeding program conundrum. In order to have a congregate summer food program that is financially viable, the organization has to serve a large number of children. Because of the long distances between communities, children would have to be bussed in to a site to receive meals.

Moreover, Cox said the need for summer feeding programs is growing. While some areas of the economy seem to be improving, Cox said she has observed a 27 percent increase of children in need of food in the North Country.

"We need to be mindful that while we've had some economic growth, it's not enough to carry an entire family," she said.

Boolani is collaborating with the Potsdam Neighborhood Center to determine how to expand PB&J and reach more children throughout the summer.

"Our vision is to grow this, and the more lives we can touch, the better," he said.

PB&J is supported with grants and gifts from donors, including members the community, the Youth Philanthropy Council of the Northern New York Community Foundation and Walmart. The program also relies on the help of volunteers to coordinate the distribution of lunches during the day.

People interested in supporting PB&J can call the Potsdam Neighborhood Center at 315-265-3920, or send donations to 2 Park St., Potsdam, NY 13676. The Potsdam Neighborhood Center is one of many programs administered by the local community action agency, St. Lawrence County Community Development Program.