Community Builder: Teacher’s pilot food pantry becomes community staple

By Mary King

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – What started as a pilot program to keep people from going hungry has turned into a place of necessity for some people in Lexington School District Four. Every Thursday, you’ll find students in Swansea High School’s Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAGs) program forming an assembly line in the school’s on-site food pantry packing bags for families in need.

“The kids get involved and they see firsthand how it does impact and how not only can it help their families but other families in need,” said First Sergeant Michael Rowland.

Teacher Tammy Jones leads the program and the district-wide food pantry that she says reaches 700 to 800 people a month. “The need is great in this area,” Jones said. “This school district is a 90 percent poverty rate.” District officials say the most recent statistics show that number is slightly lower, but the 2017-2018 poverty rate was 79 percent. Jones says she first recognized the need 8 years ago.

“My file cabinet was the food pantry,” Jones said. “And I contacted Harvest Hope because I’d heard about the backpack program, and I asked them if they had anything for teenagers that don’t have anything to eat when they go home. They contacted me back shortly after and said ‘Hey, we’ve got this idea.

Would you like to be this first school to pilot a food pantry?’” As they say, the rest is history. The pantry now supplies bags of food for more than 100 students to take home in their backpacks every Friday. Every other week, more than 120 families come to the food pantry to pick up bags of food.

“It affects me because I feel like it shouldn’t have to be that way,” said senior student William Nogues, who is also president of the JAGs program. “Everybody can help someone in some sort of way.” And for all the ways Jones has helped her community and students, her fellow colleagues nominated her as a Community Builder. Matt Mungo’s surprise left her in tears. “Ms. Jones let me interrupt for just a minute.

I’m Matt Mungo with Mungo Homes, and I am here because all of your work with the less fortunate in our community,” Mungo said. “You have been nominated and chosen as our Community Builder with WIS TV and Mungo Homes and you will get a $1,000 check for the charity of your choice from the Michael J. Mungo Foundation. So keep up the good work, and thank you for everything that you do!” Jones later explained her tears as soon as she saw Mungo, insisting they were the good kind of tears, “I watch WIS, so soon as I saw him walk in that’s why I started crying.” “I’ve seen Ms. Jones give her last dollar to a student,” said Major Michael Williams, a Swansea High School JROTC Instructor who was there for the big surprise. “That’s the type of person she is.”

All who know her would agree, she’s a person who’s truly changing the world around her. Jones says the pantry supplies are made possible thanks to donations from local churches and community members and support from Harvest Hope and United Way of the Midlands.

She says they have to pay to stock the items in the pantry, so they are always looking for financial donations and/or supplies to stock the pantry. Supplies would include single size items that small children would eat over the weekend like a can of soup, oatmeal, peanut butter, etc. She adds the pantry also loves to be able to give their families toiletry items like soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste.