The purpose of the School Pantry Plus Program is to help alleviate child hunger through the provision of food to children and their families at their school. School pantries are located in each school to provide a more readily accessible source of food assistance to low income students and their families. Sites are permanent and students are allowed to visit anonymously (no record keeping) and to help themselves. We have found that children usually have to be encouraged to take more instead of the worry by some that they would take too much. While we try to be as nutritious as we can – there are limitations due to having no access to refrigeration at the school and sometimes in the homes. Our philosophy is that while we strive for healthy, it is better to have food than no food when you are experiencing hunger. Our purpose is to feed the children by providing for them when there is no one else available to feed them. Schools are the best place to locate a pantry because children are at their schools while most do not have a way to get to local pantries, churches, and soup kitchens. A school pantry brings the help to them.
One in four children are experiencing hunger in West Virginia. In some schools in Monongalia County, the at risk children are over 50% of the population. Hunger is a major obstacle to learning. Try not eating for a day to see how well you can concentrate. Studies have found that kids who don’t get enough to eat suffer from health issues, have difficulty concentrating, are cranky, have social issues, and miss more school. Many children get two meals at school and nothing in the evenings or weekends and holidays.
We decided to expand our pantries to include hygiene products. Some girls start their menses as early as the fourth grade. Tampons and pads are taxed as luxury items in West Virginia and often kids at risk have no consistent access to these products so they just do not come to school. Research has found that often girls miss between 3-6 days of school due to their menstruation per month. Obviously this has a big impact on their ability to learn, their confidence and self-esteem. We try to provide toilet paper, deodorant, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other hygiene products as well.
Helping children with school pantries gives them a piece of trust. It is an action that says to children, we are going to help you and we are going do it in a way that you keep your dignity and privacy. School pantries are maintained through the love and care of the community.
Our Pantry is a mutual project of high school students, WVU SGA, and the community started last year by Morgantown High School Senior Roark Sizemore and his mentor, Tom Bloom, Monongalia County Commissioner. The West Virginia University Student Government Association quickly joined and through Madison Thompson and Josh Watson and donated the initial $3000 startup money. The first two pilot schools were Mason Dixon Elementary and South Middle School. This week, we are working on adding Ridgedale Elementary and Westwood Middle.