Students at both E.C. Glass and Heritage high schools will have access to a food pantry on campus when the new school year starts next month.
As part of Park View Community Mission’s Food for Thought program, the nonprofit has decided not only to provide bags of food for students to take home on the weekends, but also to have a food pantry at each school.
Food for Thought is a backpack feeding program that started last fall and helps Lynchburg City Schools students, particularly in the middle and high schools, on the weekends.
Earl Larkins, Park View spokesperson, said from October to May, the nonprofit delivered almost 12,000 bags to Lynchburg public schools that included about 67,000 pounds of food. Larkins said that equates to about 81,000 meals.
Lynchburg City Schools Director of Engagement, Equity and Opportunity Ethel Reeves said the program has been valuable to the school division.
“I think with the poverty issues that we see, it’s just another means to address that need. We know that hungry students tend to focus on their hunger and not their academics. If we can feed children, then we believe we can better address the need,” Reeves said.
Heritage High School teacher Michele Wisskirchen said the Food for Thought program has been “extremely successful” at the school, with between 30 and 50 bags of food being given to students each week.
Both E.C. Glass and Heritage started having a pantry available to students during last semester.
Wisskirchen said about 10 students were picking items from the pantry every week, while other students opted to pick up a bag of food.
“We’ve had success both ways. I don’t want to exclude anybody by just doing the pantry. I feel it’s important to provide both so we’re meeting all the kids’ needs,” Wisskirchen said.
At E.C. Glass, Ray Booth, a member of the nonprofit’s board and chair of its program committee, said about 50 students per week were grabbing bags of food or taking advantage of the pantry by the end of the year.
Booth said the nonprofit hopes a group of students or a club will run the pantries to lessen the stigma of “what it looks like to take a bag” of food.
“The more you do to take away the stigma, the more people will take advantage of it,” Booth said.
The pantries also give options of different types of food for students unlike with the bags, which have set items of food.
“If you put together a bag of food that is really nutritious, it might not be what they want to eat. What we found is that if you have a pantry-type operation and let them see what you have available and they pick so many items of each different [food] area, then they would pick items they are sure they would eat. It’s much more efficient and less waste,” Booth said.
Booth said the nonprofit will continue to provide bags of food to all the middle schools.
Liz Ramos covers K-12 education for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5532.