Innovation and Collaboration: Perry High School Food Pantry
School-based food pantries are one way to help make sure that hungry, food insecure high school and middle school students can eat outside of school breakfasts and lunches. With the support of the principal and the Perry community food pantry, teachers at Perry High School started a school-based food pantry just over a year and a half ago. Their recommendations for a successful school pantry include securing buy-in from school administration and the community early on, prioritizing food items that students will eat and can cook, and prioritizing personal relationships with students in need to avoid stigma and make sure that the school pantry is used.
The Perry High School food pantry organizers were fortunate to have support from the principal at the very beginning of the process. The district used some of its modified allowable growth funds to refit an old school photography lab into a food pantry. The food pantry is accessed through the alternative school classroom, which is beneficial because many of the users attend the alternative school and because the pantry is managed by a guidance counselor and an alternative school teacher.
The Perry High School food pantry had early support from the Perry community food pantry, which has so far contributed $4000 to a separate account for the school pantry and community pantry staff helps purchase food items on behalf of the school pantry organizers. The community pantry also accepts expired but still usable food items from the school pantry – due to liability concerns; the school pantry does not give out any expired food items.
Students who may benefit from the school pantry are usually identified by the alternative school teachers or by the guidance counselors. There are periodic announcements made through school publications, but these are carefully worded to avoid stigma. The organizers acknowledge that their heavily relationship-based approach means that some students who may benefit from the pantry don’t know about it, but avoiding stigma is a higher priority for the organizers at this time. They also note that they have not had any abuse of school pantry so far, and they don’t anticipate abuse being a problem in Perry High School in the future. Approximately 8-10 students use the Perry High School food pantry every week.
Recommendations for other school-based pantry initiatives include:
1) Secure buy-in from school administration and the community early on. Administrators who focus on learning and test-scores may recognize that students learn better when they aren’t distracted by hunger. Teachers and staff often have connections in the community that can support the food pantry. In Perry, teachers were able to involve their spouses – one spouse is a dentist who donates dental care supplies to the pantry, while another works at Hy-Vee and donates over-stocked food items.
2) Prioritize food items that the students will eat and can cook. Keep in mind that students may lack appliances such as stoves, ovens, and refrigerators. The most popular items at the Perry school food pantry are Ramen, pasta with sauce, peanut butter and jelly, soup, and pop tarts.
3) Personal relationships with students are the key to success, especially in smaller districts such as Perry. By integrating the school pantry into alternative education and guidance counseling programs, Perry High School has been able to avoid stigma and customize their food pantry program to the varied and changing needs of individual students. Tying the school pantry into existing at-risk programs may be a viable approach for other school districts to copy.
4) While the popular “Backpack Buddies” program is useful for serving elementary school students, older students’ needs are often better served through different programming. In schools with an existing Backpack Buddies program, it is important for organizers to think critically about which aspects of Backpack Buddies need to be modified in order to better serve older students.
For more information about the Perry High School food pantry, visit their Iowa Hunger Directory profile.
Tools of the Trade: Create the Good
Create The Good connects people with volunteer opportunities to share their life experiences, skills and passions in their community. The network expands on traditional ways to volunteer by connecting people with simple activities, time-flexible opportunities and a wide variety of interests. On www.CreateTheGood.org potential volunteers find:
- A wide range of local volunteer opportunities that suit a variety of interests;
- Easy guides for starting projects;
- A cost-free way to find helping hands for service projects, big or small;
- Opportunities to volunteer from the comfort of home;
- A monthly newsletter and other resources filled with tips, ideas and inspiration to get started volunteering.
Create The Good is an initiative of AARP. For more information, visit their Iowa Hunger Directory profile.