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Elementary seeks funding for food pantry

Important: Janelle Ray, a social worker at Park Elementary School in Fairmount, talks Tuesday about the importance of food banks for area students and their families.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

FAIRMOUNT — Park Elementary School has partnered with Second Harvest Foodbank of East Central Indiana to create a food pantry at the school.

School officials hope the pantry will help supplement students and their families with food throughout the week. Second Harvest will seek funding for the pantry from community foundations, churches, businesses and individuals. 

“We learned that this is a need in the community based on an increase in our free and reduced lunch numbers,” said Scott Deetz, Madison-Grant superintendent, “corporation-wide, we’ve seen a 4-percent increase in free and reduced lunches.”

Janelle Ray, a Park Elementary social worker said between 15 and 20 percent of student’s families would participate in the program. This would equal around 51 families and officials expect the pantry to spend about $6 per family. The total cost to run the program would be $3,600 for the school year. In order to start the pantry, the school needs to secure funding for the full year.

“I’m so passionate about (this program) because I think it has the potential to really help families and gives them the possibility to take home food and prepare it themselves,” Ray said. 

According to Deetz, research shows that each family member in a food insecure home is short seven pounds of food per person per week.

“We believe as a school our purpose should be to embolden a healthier community and step in to help families,” said Deetz.

While the school will be helping Park families to have a more nourishing diet, there is a second benefit to offering a food pantry at the school.

“From our standpoint, offering services like food pantries of full-time social workers is our way of reaching past academia to form relationships with families. This is one way that we can build trust that goes beyond a math test or homework,” said Deetz.

Tim Kean, president and chief executive officer of Second Harvest, said his organization will be finding volunteers to hand out food at the pantry. Kean says volunteers will play a vital role in the food pantry program by freeing up teachers to directly engage with families of students and build relationships between the families and the school. 

“Relationship building leads to positive impressions for students and increases student performance,” Kean said. He added: “where there are schools who have significantly high free and reduced lunch programs, there is generally low parental engagement.”

The hope is to get the food pantry kicked off at the beginning of the second semester. This would allow the school to get the funding it needs, advertise the pantry adequately and find volunteers.

Ray believes creating a food pantry is important because “Fairmount is a food desert.” She said that local families often to travel to Marion, and sometimes even Muncie, to visit a large supermarket. This journey can add to the costs of feeding a family and can be a challenge for those struggling financially.

The school will probably use its cafeteria or gymnasium as a base for their food pantry operation. Plan call for the school to offer fresh produce, breads, vegetables, and when they are able to, protein foods such as meat and poultry. 

“I want to express all of our gratitude for the Fairmount community,” said Ray. “It has been just a wonderful opportunity to be here in this community and to see how our local churches and different local businesses have really stepped up and asked how they can help.

She expressed pride in Fairmount.

“I just feel so blessed by everyone who is willing to love on these kids because that’s the main point of why we do what we do.”