FAIRMOUNT, Ind. — Officials at Park Elementary School in Fairmount are looking to tackle the issue of student food insecurity by opening a school food pantry.
Partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana, the school hopes to open the pantry, which would operate out of its cafeteria, by next semester.
“The goal really is to partner with families, to come alongside them and help them with that need. But also provide an opportunity for more parents to be more involved here at our school,” social worker Janelle Ray said.
The pantry is a passion project for Ray. She says it’s her hope that it will help students and their families “bridge the gap” when it comes to having enough to eat.
“My hope is that we can step in and fill that gap through the food pantry program and help them so that they can be more successful in the classroom, in the hallways, in their daily life,” Ray said.
The growth of food insecurity is something being seen throughout Indiana. Last month, the Food Research and Action Center reported that one in five Indiana families struggle to put food on the table.
The Madison-Grant United School Corporation, which Park Elementary is part of, has also seen an increase in food insecurity. According to the district, there has been a 4% rise in students who receive free or reduced lunch. The increase means roughly 60% of all students in the district now rely on the program.
Ray, along with Park Elementary Principal Melissa DeWitt estimate it will cost $3,600 to run the program for a full year. They are currently seeking funding help through donations from local business, organizations and other donors.
“We’re in the very early phases, but I’m hopeful this community will see the benefit of it and will come together and make sure this will go off without a hitch,” DeWitt says.
DeWitt added that initially, the pantry will be open exclusively for Park Elementary students and their families, but that it’s her intention to grow the food pantry into a community wide.
“So, if we can find a way to create and make the elementary school, make any of our schools the hub for the community as a place to go where they feel safe, where they feel comfortable and they can get those resources that they need, then we want to be a part of that,” she said.