School Pantries and Fresh Veggies, Snacks and Backpacks: Solutions for Davidson County
“Bye Trenton! See ya’ Myra!”
Liberty Drive Elementary School’s halls are buzzing with excitement as the bell rings and another school day draws to an end. Shaylen Brown’s cheerful voice rings out over the children’s heads as they head towards their buses.
A mother of four and a former front office employee, Ms. Brown is a familiar and kind face in these hallways, positioning her perfectly for her new role as Student Support Specialist with Communities in Schools (CIS), an on-the-ground partner agency of Second Harvest. When she ducks into a classroom in the morning to “borrow” a student, she can discretely bring them down to the food pantry located on the school grounds.
The pantry’s shelves are orderly and are labeled in both English and Spanish: Proteins/Proteina, Breakfast Items/Articulos de Desayuno , Canned Vegetables/ Vegetales enlatados. Ms. Brown or a CIS volunteer will walk with the student through the pantry and help them make healthy food choices that interest them.
“I’m a mom, so I put a bunch of snack foods out thinking that’s what they would want” Brown says, gesturing to a shelf of crackers and granola bars. “But these kids come right to the veggies and chose them carefully. They shop for what their family wants and eats. They really are making good choices.”
Concerned that students and their families may not always know how to use a certain food, such as dried beans, Ms. Brown often writes up recipes to stick into their backpacks as well.
Mary Jane Akerman, Executive Director of CIS says this sort of involvement is exactly what children need to become agents for change in their own lives, health and futures.
The entire city’s school system offers free breakfast and lunch to all students, because over 96% of students come from families that income-qualify for these meals. Knowing this—and knowing that hungry children come from hungry families—CIS recently began opening the school pantry some evenings to ensure accessibility to working parents. “Many of the families we see are working multiple part time jobs or doing working shift work,” Akerman explains.
90 families came to the first open Liberty Drive pantry night to get meats, eggs and fresh produce that come from Second Harvest. “1.7 tons of food and hygiene items went out that night,” says Brown. “So we know we have hit on something people need.”
In Davidson County, 24.3% of children are food insecure. That is one reason why Second Harvest works with CIS and 38 other local partners to provide over 2.2 million meals annually to the county. You can learn more about what is happening on the ground in Davidson County here.
At the beginning of the school year, Ms. Brown made her way through the classrooms to make announcements to students about some of the programs that were available at Liberty Drive. The very next day, she heard a small knock on her door. It was a 4th grade boy who she recognized had come with his mother to the pantry night the week prior.
“Don’t forget to tell other kids about the pantry,” he told her. “That was the first time my brother and I got our own steaks and didn’t have to share.”