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COLUMBUS, Ind. — A number of school districts struggle with thousands of dollars in lunch debt. To help families who struggle to keep food on the table, Columbus North High School came up with an idea.

“I hear the stories daily,” said Tonya Cruser, a teacher. “Some of them are really heartbreaking for sure.”

Cruser is a teacher at the high school. Over 40 percent of students in the district receive a free or reduced meal. She wanted to do something to help these families.

Last year, she decided to take over the food pantry inside the school’s cafeteria. It’s a resource that opened six years ago through a partnership with Gleaners Food Bank. Everything on the shelves is donated by that organization.

“Any kid can come through here, if they feel comfortable doing that,” she said. “Generally, it tends to be their parents.”

The Bulldog Pantry is open every other Friday after school. Families can pick out a variety of items from canned goods to toiletries.

“Being a single parent and raising my own child.. I was aware of all the different issues that could contribute to parents having budgetary concerns,” Barbara Handt, an English teacher, said.

That is why Handt is one of the teachers who volunteers at the pantry. Typically, they said 60 to 90 families use it.

“It is unfortunate we have that many people who need the service, but at the same time, I am glad the word is getting out,” said Cruser.

Bulldog Pantry also paid off the school district’s lunch debt which was nearly $4,000. They said another pantry is open at Columbus East High School.