SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV)– For many of us, the biggest decision in the morning is what we’ll have for breakfast — but for nearly half of Syracuse’s kids, there may be no breakfast at all. 

“Waking up and being hungry in the morning time is going to completely affect how you pay attention in school that morning,” Syracuse Community Connections COO Kenneth Hills said. “If you’re already worrying about waiting for lunch to eat your first meal well you’ve missed half your program, you’ve missed half your class for that day.” 

Hunger is just one piece of the puzzle the Southwest Community Center is trying to work through every day. They provide kids with a hot meal every day, and if it’s a full day of programming at the center, kids receive breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack.

“It’s not just peanut butter and jelly, not just hot dogs. You get a real meal, you get vegetables… not just cookies, snacks, and cakes or corner store food which, depending on the price, you can only get a bag of chips and a soda… which is not healthy for your developing body at all.”

Kenneth Hills, COO Syracuse Community Connections

Providing free and healthy food to those living with food insecurity is the mission of Save Rochester, a non-profit organization in a community just down the Thruway. Rochester is ranked only 0.2% lower than Syracuse for the highest childhood poverty in the nation.

“Number one and two in the entire nation,” said Mike Johnson, founder and executive director of Save Rochester Inc. “It speaks volumes, you know, it shakes me, you know, at my core — just this visceral reaction to want to do something, to want to act.” 

That passion to serve is what ignited Johnson to create Save Rochester. He’s not only serving his community but ours too. He and volunteers recently teamed up with Cafe Sankofa to feed hungry neighbors on Syracuse’s Southside. 

 “I kid you not, it was like being in another space: different people, same problems.”

Mike Johnson, Executive Director Save Rochester

Nutritious, quality food is necessary for a long and healthy life, but so is access to healthcare. It’s a basic need so many take for granted, but it’s one that becomes difficult for those living in poverty to come by, which is the mission of the Syracuse Community Health Center: to serve the underserved. 

“Folks here deserve quality health care in a quality setting and that’s what we want to do, and especially the children that didn’t ask to be here, that had no choice when it came to where they live and where they go to school, where they worship, where they play,” Syracuse Community Health Center CEO Mark Hall said. 

Care at the Syracuse Community Health Center is free for those who qualify, but receiving those services often comes with a dose of judgment from the community.

“The ZIP codes are primarily African American, Hispanic neighborhoods, neighborhoods that are primarily associated with lower income, violence and so the stigma around the health centers, not just Syracuse Community Health Center, but health centers in general, is that you serve the people that nobody else wants to see.”

Mark Hall, CEO Syracuse Community Health Center

That means the Syracuse Community Health Center has to work even harder to break down barriers and encourage people to use its services. That’s why they created school-based health clinics over 20 years ago. Today, eight different schools in the Syracuse City School District benefit from these health clinics that bring doctors, dentists, and mental health professionals through school doors each and every day. 

“How can we as a Health Center, provide the services that your children deserve that your family deserves? How can we embrace you to come to our center where you’ll be treated with respect and dignity and love? Forget about the rest of it. These children are here. Their families are here. They deserve to be treated a certain way. They deserve the healthcare and we want to be that vehicle in order to do that,” Hall said.

Going the extra mile to provide for its neighbors, no matter the circumstance.

If you or someone you know is living in poverty or you want to help those in need check out our designated list of resources.