Foodbank staff, along with representatives from the Jennings school district and local dignitaries cut the ribbon at the new school pantry / Photo by Bethany Prange
Fact: Children who eat three nutritious meals a day perform much better in school than children who are food insecure.
Even adults can attest that hungry tummies are not conducive to learning or productivity.
But for many St. Louis-area children, the only guaranteed meal they eat each day is the lunch they receive from the free or reduced lunch program at their school.
Preparing students to learn is a priority for teachers and administrators, and it’s a task that goes far beyond just providing books and pencils, says Dr. Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of schools in the Jennings School District.
The overall health and welfare of the child is vital, Anderson says.
So when administrators in her school district realized some of their students were going hungry, they knew they had to take action.
Jennings administrators contacted the St. Louis Area Foodbank about opening a food pantry at one of their schools.
While Foodbank staff had been contemplating the benefits of a school food pantry for many years, we initially did not have the funds or the food to make it happen.
But in September, the Foodbank received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF) funds from the state of Missouri. This funding stipulates that the TANF food must be distributed to families with at least one member age 18 or younger.
A school food pantry seemed like the perfect opportunity to distribute food to children and families in need. With this project in mind, Foodbank staff immediately reached out to the Jennings School District.
On Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2012, the new Jennings Community Cupboard opened at the Jennings Educational Training School. The pantry will be part of a one-year pilot program coordinated by the Foodbank.
A second food pantry will open soon at Shearwater High School in St. Louis. Both school pantries will track the number of children they serve each year to help determine the success of the program and to provide data for further funding.
The food pantry at Shearwater will be open to students of the high school, while the Jennings School District pantry will make their food available to any family with a child enrolled in the district.
At Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at Jennings, Foodbank staff joined administrators from the school district, local residents and Jennings Mayor Benjamin Sutphin for a tour of the new pantry.
Student volunteers, along with volunteers from the district and the community, will sort, stack and bag food for pantry clients. So far, the students have already worked hard to get the pantry up and running.
The pantry will distribute food on the third and fourth Thursdays of every month, starting this month. A family in need of food assistance with a child enrolled in Jennings School District should call their child’s school counselor or social worker.
In addition to partnerships with the Foodbank, Schnucks and Target stores, the Jennings Community Cupboard will accept community donations.
“I have found that it really takes a village to pull all of this together,” says Shelia Nicholson, the director of student services for the Jennings School District.
Nicholson, along with Greg Almus, school administrator at Jennings Educational Training School, helped lead the charge to get the pantry open.
“I’m so glad we have this opportunity,” says Jennings School District Board President Rose Mary Johnson. “We are so glad to spearhead something so important for our community.”
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank