SMMS Staff Starts Food Pantry

This cabinet serves as St. Marys Middle School's food pantry. The pantry is open to students who need food to take home with them because they would otherwise go hungry.Weekend Power Packs such as this provide students in need with six meals worth of food for the weekend. The food is free and donated by Agape Ministries Inc.
Staff Writer

Meals on the weekends are often thought of as a given but for some students at St. Marys Middle School, getting food outside of school can be a challenge. To help make meeting nutritional needs easier, the administration at the middle school have partnered with Agape Ministries, Inc. to provide for hungry students.

With a program that began last year called Weekend Power Packs, students who have reported a need for food can be given six meals to eat over the weekend. 

“We had some students that we were concerned about who we knew were relying on free or reduced — mostly free — lunch and breakfast,” SMMS Principal Mary Miller said. “We were wondering about what happens on the weekends, what takes the place of that food?”

The power packs are made up of two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, snacks and shelf-stable beverages that are easy to prepare with, at most, a microwave required. The packs are prepared by Agape and are balanced for nutritional content, nut-free and can be tailored to fit a student’s flavor preferences. 

Meals often consist of individual servings of macaroni and cheese or canned meals such as soups, ravioli or chicken salad while breakfast items include things such as toaster pastries, cereal bars or oatmeal. 

“Every Friday, we will go around to these kids’ lockers and put the bags in their backpacks or if they don’t have one, the food is discretely wrapped up in a bag,” said Liz Johnson, SMMS assistant principal. 

A new addition this year is a food pantry that is available for any student who may not have food at home throughout the week. Currently the pantry is only open on an as-need basis, Johnson said, but it is something she hopes to open up throughout the day as the school year goes on. 

In the food pantry, students can pick from meals similar to what would go in the power packs but they can choose their own food, bag it and take it home with them.

“One of our classrooms here is actually managing the food pantry so they make sure it is stocked, inventoried and organized,” said Johnson.

Miller added that the students taking care of the food pantry can also aid in getting items to other students who may need some help. She said that sometimes, students are too afraid or embarrassed to tell a teacher but they may confide in a friend. The more kids that know about the food pantry and what it has to offer, the easier it will be to help each other. 

The idea of helping others is now spreading. Johnson said the students who had received power pack last year as eighth graders are still eligible and she said the staff at East Primary and West Intermediate schools are looking into starting their own food programs for younger students.

With just over a year of offering food to students under their belts, the administrators said they are currently sending home about 30 packs every week and are helping four or five students with the food pantry.

To get onto the list for a Weekend Power Pack, students can self-report to a staff member or write their name on a slip that says they have a need and it will list if they need hygiene products, food, clothing or “other” and place it in a discrete box in the office that the staff regularly checks on.

“If they are recommended, we do ask them if it would be OK for us to give them a bag of food — some say yes and some say no, but if they decide later that it’s something they don’t want, they can always be taken off the list,” Miller explained. 

Although the school is seen as the face of the program, administrators were quick to thank Agape for starting the program and providing all of the food.

“Agape has been really great and wonderful to work with,” Johnson said. “They take care of making sure the food we give the kids is quality food and offers balanced nutrition. The kids don’t have to go through any type of screening process. We don’t want to put them through any sort of ‘test’ to get the food they need because sometimes there are other reasons there isn’t food in their home besides finances.”