High school creates food pantry for students, families in need

Responding to what they felt was a demonstrable need, staff at Vashon High School have begun a free food pantry program for any students experiencing food insecurity at home.

“We started just before the April break because we were really concerned about these kids and their families having enough while there was no school,” Lisa Cyra, food service director for the Vashon Island School District, said.

Concern, and the project, were spurred when a student approached a member of the VHS office staff about being allowed to leave early in order to get to the food bank while it was still open. Combined with the fact, Cyra added, that they often have kids come by the kitchen in the mornings who are extremely hungry, it became clear that there were students at the school whose families needed food at home.

“We thought that we could do something about it, and we’re really still trying to figure out how best to set things up” Cyra said. “But we were very concerned about the break.”

Some staff members were anxious to help, and one even brought it up at their church, where donations were collected, including a single gift of $200. That gave Cyra enough to go shopping off-island for bulk items, in order to fill shopping bags for kids to take home over the break, if they needed to. Several students took bags for the break, and Cyra and the staff knew they needed to do more.

Upon return from the break, the staff have ensured that there are about 20 grocery bags filled with food staples, lunch and dinner items, healthy snacks and juice, available every day in a spot near the counselors’ office. Anyone who needs to can simply take what they need, and Cyra reports that at least a couple of bags are taken every day.

“We’re struggling a bit with how to do this so it works best for the kids,” Cyra said. “We have spoken with Nancy Radford of the Backpack Brigade at Chautauqua to get some ideas and advice, but this is high school. We can’t just put food in their backpacks.”

She said that she sent out a survey last week in an effort to inform the effort. It included questions such as:

• Are there times when you don’t have enough food at home?

• Do you sometimes worry about where your next meal will come from?

• If you are provided meals at school, are those the only meals that you eat?

At the time of this writing, 61 responses had been received. Regarding the question as to whether school meals were the only meals they ate, 10 percent of the students responding said “yes.”

Initially it was thought that the pantry might just be something they put together for Fridays, but with the generosity of the initial donations, Cyra said they have enough to make the bags available every day, and as noted, are seeing the food being taken.

As Cyra and the staff continue to develop the program, donations — money is best, but food is also OK — will be accepted to keep it going. Checks should be made out to Vashon High School and can go to the school’s office.

“We just don’t want kids to be stressed out about food at home,” Cyra said.

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