Starting a School Pantry
Did you know that hungry students attend class in every school district in America? The very first PORCH chapter started when some parents realized their kids were bringing in lunch to share with classmates who didn’t have their own and we’ve seen an increasing number of school pantries being created in local schools and colleges to help address food insecurity..
The federal free school lunch and breakfast programs are critical services for students who qualify. However, even if you are a student who qualifies to eat a free breakfast and lunch at school (and not all districts offer both and not every student has access to the transportation needed to arrive at school in time for breakfast), 50% of your meals are still unaccounted for. And of course, school meals don’t reach the rest of your hungry family.
Many food insecure families face big challenges in accessing supplemental food services and preparing healthy meals. Sending their kids home from school with healthy food is a simple and effective way to address the access issues.
Ways PORCH Communities can help your local school pantry:
PORCH Communities mobilizes and supports local volunteers to create sustainable hunger relief programs. Every local PORCH chapter uses our proven programs in ways that meet their local needs, such as:
- Stocking existing school pantries: Through your PORCH for Pantries monthly food drives, you can request, collect and donate to the pantry, the items that families need the most. The school social worker will pull items from the pantry, which could be as simple as a closet, to give students to take home as needed.
- Creating new pantries: Because PORCH for Pantries provides food donations reliably month after month, a PORCH partnership can make it possible to start a pantry for a school or a district when one did not exist.
- Providing fresh fruits and vegetables: The PORCH chapter and school can work together to raise funds to purchase a refrigerator or gain agreement to re-allocate an existing one to the school (or district) pantry. The PORCH team uses the PORCH Fresh program to procure produce to increase the pantry’s healthy options.
- Implementing a student backpack program: If schools don’t have any — current or potential — storage facilities, the PORCH for Schools program can provide each student in need with a backpack filled with food on Fridays. Students return the empty backpacks on Monday to the school social worker administering the program on site.
- Partnering with the PTA: In at least one case, the PTA is creating a school district pantry and partnering with the local PORCH chapter to help stock it. In any of the above cases, the PTA can be a great partner for spreading the word about PORCH programs, recruiting volunteers and even donating funds to support the program.
A conversation is all it takes to get started
PORCH works with existing organizations and experts in place such as school social workers to support their efforts and help fill outstanding gaps. School social workers are tasked to ensure students’ well being and food insecurity is usually just one part of a situation they may be dealing with. The first step to helping is to investigate what the need is. Contact your school or district’s social worker and let them know you are interested in working with them to help families with food insecurity. Here are some questions you can ask:
- How do you assist families with food insecurity? In addition to federal programs, do you have a pantry on site? Do you refer them to a nearby community pantry? (You can always help stock those shelves.) How many families do you estimate you need to help with food insecurity each month?
- (If they have a pantry on site) What type of pantry do you have? Are there items you have trouble keeping in stock? Are there items your families could especially use if you had the resources to shop for them such as healthy and low sodium foods, options that require only a microwave to prepare, and/or certain ethnic foods?
- (If they don’t have a pantry on site) If you had a pantry on site how would that change things for your students? For you? What types and amounts of food do you think you’d want to have ideally to serve the need?
- Do you have a refrigerator or do you want one? Do you have a place to put one?If so, do you need help stocking fresh produce and other foods?
- Could your pantry be expanded if it was for social workers and families from across the district, and not just your school? Would it still be convenient for the vast majority of your families, or would it need to be moved to another location? What size would be large enough to support the community?
Join the PORCH community of changemakers
Once you understand the need at your school including the number of families that typically need food and which pantry items are most needed to be stocked monthly, you can act to fill that gap. And you don’t have to do it alone. PORCH Communities provides hands-on support, tools and connections to other PORCH volunteer leaders who have done it before. Contact us to learn more about how to join our growing community of volunteers making it easy for neighbors to help neighbors in their towns.