Open food pantries inside local schools

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A scene from Featherbed Lane Elementary, in Maryland. Credit: Baltimore Sun

When children come to school hungry because their family can’t afford food, they struggle to learn and concentrate in class. That’s ultimately bad for everyone, not just the kids. Recognizing childhood hunger as a societal priority, our federal government has long sponsored free and reduced-price meals for public school students—breakfast and lunch served on-site, as well as dinner in high-poverty schools that qualify. However, students from impoverished families may still be going hungry during the weekends and in the evenings, along with other members of the family. After all, an estimated 14 percent of households in America is considered “food insecure.”

To fill this gap, a number of public schools, nonprofits, and business leaders are teaming up to implement a promising approach: establish food pantries inside the schools.

In Washington, DC, it’s Martha’s Table that sponsors a monthly program to bring fresh produce and other food staples for parents to pick up, for free, at their kids’ elementary schools. A similar program is underway at several elementary schools in Cambridge, MA, where nearly half of the students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In Baltimore, MD, the food pantry model is flourishing with nearly 220 schools now participating. One mom whose children attend participating schools in San Diego, CA, tells USA Today what a “blessing” it is—a sentiment that’s surely widely shared.

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Martha’s Market at an elementary school in Washington, DC. Credit: WTOP.

Let’s hope the model spreads. As Billy Shore, the head of No Kid Hungry, summed up, “as the number of children in public schools who live in poverty increases, schools need to do more to tap into the options available to feed hungry students. This is such a solvable problem. Solving poverty is complex. Feeding children is not.”

For more information, see “How to help fight childhood hunger? Open a market inside a school,” Boston Globe (2016); “Bringing food to the families: Bustling markets inside D.C.’s elementary schools,” WTOP (2015); “More Md. schools opening food pantries,” Baltimore Sun (2015); “Schools becoming the ‘last frontier’ for hungry kids,” USA Today (2015); and “Students Too Hungry to Learn: A Challenge We Can Solve,” Learning First Alliance (2013).