In North Vernon, Indiana, fighting student hunger is a real community effort. This is especially true at Jennings County High School. The large, rural high school in southern Indiana has many students who receive free or reduced price lunches. Knowing the negative impact that hunger can have on learning, school staff felt that more could be done to help any students struggling with hunger.
Marisa Patterson, a French and World Languages teacher and World Languages Department Head, and Tracy Martin, a Spanish and English teacher, are two staff members who are working to fight student hunger in their school through the Panther Pantry (a school food pantry) and food sharing resources.
“Student hunger is so very prevalent in our schools, more so today than ever. This can be attributed to the economy as well as societal factors,” said Tracy.
That is why Tracy and Marisa both have pre-filled boxes of food in their classrooms for those students in dire need. Students can visit their rooms any time and pick up a box of food. And, cafeteria workers have started a sharing table in which students may either donate their unused, unopened packaged food items, or they may benefit from that table by taking whatever is left.
“This is a win-win situation, because students are able to claim those food items anonymously and no food is going to waste,” said Tracy.
In addition to food boxes and sharing tables, there is the Panther Pantry, named after the Jennings County High School’s mascot, opened in April 2013. It is a school food pantry exclusively for students and those living in their immediate households, sponsored by the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.
When students and parents access the pantry, the only information collected is the number of persons in age categories that reside in those households. This information is then forwarded, monthly, to Gleaners, allowing them to better serve the school pantries.
“Our pantry, while sponsored by Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, not only provides food and hygiene items but also provides opportunities for service projects through the National Honor Society as well as the life skills class at the high school,” said Tracy. “Our students, in essence, are assisting other students in helping us maintain the pantry.”
As with most work, there are challenges to fighting student hunger. For Tracy and Marisa, this includes not having enough time, and students feeling embarrassed or ashamed to come to them with needs; often times the students are identified through the school counselors, dean, and principals. And, even though they have gotten the word out about the pantry, many students still don’t know the pantry is available, so Tracy and Marisa would like to reach even more students with what is available.
“We are always touched by the amount of gratitude shown to us by those we serve. It takes an entire community to come together to help those less fortunate and we are proud to be a part of such a generous community.”
As with any community effort, there are a lot of people to thank:
“After meeting with a Gleaners representative and then-Principal Tim Taylor, we were encouraged and supported by him as well as the school board to pursue this endeavor. With the help of administrators Brent Comer and Johnny Bright, our colleagues, and our custodial staff, the Panther Pantry was born,” said Tracy. “Since its opening, we have had the privilege of serving approximately 30 families each month. However, we would not be able to continue this much needed service to our school community if it weren’t for continued support and encouragement of our current superintendent, Dr. Terry Sargent and our school board, as well as our current administrative team of Tom Black, Johnny Bright, Mike Green, and Dustin Roller, as well as assistance from the guidance office, attendance office, technology department, the National Honor Society, the life skills class, and our dedicated custodial staff.”
“We also have been fortunate to have been blessed by private donors, county trustees, Brown’s Corner Chapel, as well as volunteers who have tirelessly given of their time, money, and resources,” continues Tracy. “We would also like to recognize Main Source Bank and Jennings County High School staff for hosting jeans day in which employees could pay to wear jeans in order to raise funds for the needs of the pantry. Additionally, Jay C Food Store has been instrumental in helping us by pulling and preparing orders for us, as well as Hilex Poly for providing plastic sacks for our clients.”
Thanks to their dedication to fighting student hunger, Marisa and Tracy won a Challenge to End Student Hunger award for their school from NEA Healthy Futures, in partnership with NEA Member Benefits and Bank of America.
“With this grant, we are able to supply the school food pantry with perishables that are not always readily available through the food bank. Such items include milk, cheese, meats, as well as certain hygiene items,” said Tracy. “By the response from the people we serve, they are pleased to be able to have these choices made available to them.”
And, the school continues to help those in need by also running a clothing drive with donations from students and school staff.