Many schools care for their own and recognize that their job duties and the role they play in the lives of their students reaches far beyond the classroom. As the JAG community can attest to, students who face adverse conditions in their homes have consequences in the classroom. When kids are hungry, tired, and distressed they become distracted. Today’s schools often step in to fill a much more global role than learning and academics.
One need that the schools around the country continually face is hunger. A large number of communities have food pantries. Community donations, partnerships with faith-based organizations and support from charities help the individual schools provide take-home meals and food pantry programs throughout South Carolina.
One example is Harvest Hope Food Bank in Richland. An average of 500 students receive backpacks full of food to take home on weekends, a time when they wouldn’t have access to the free or reduced-price meals at school. All five high schools in the district also stock in-house food pantries to serve the school population and their families.
Currently, the district is finding that its families’ needs are greater than what the schools are currently able to meet. Abby Cobb, the district’s lead social worker said the average cost to fill a take-home meal backpack is about $7. When a school fills 20 packs a week, the cost can run about $5,000 a year. Grant money defrays some of the cost but the grant money will run out, and the district is “in dire need” of additional support systems for the coming school year.
At Swansea High School in Lexington, a combination of community support and student management makes an in-house food pantry possible. The pantry serves about 65 families every other week. The pantry began two years ago and is fully stocked with a variety of food and toiletries. This pantry is stocked thanks to donations from the school and community and bi-weekly deliveries from Harvest Hope. About 50 students in the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program work in the pantry. They fill packages and load items when families in need come to the pantry.
“To see how much people give to these kind of things, it’s inspiring to know that there’s somebody else out there that cares as much as you do,” said Shakenia Carter, a 17-year-old Swansea junior who works in the food pantry through the JAG program. “The rewarding part about it is it makes me more grateful for the food I have at my house.”