(Nov. 29, 2019) Counselors and teachers at Stephen Decatur High School who were concerned that some students may not be getting enough to eat, opened a food pantry last Friday to help alleviate that problem.

Organized by Curricular Resource Teacher Nikki Billetdeaux and Counselor Lauren Sharkey, the food pantry will assist students on the FARM (Free and Reduced Meals) program and who were not able to grab something to eat before coming to school or for any other reason they might need food.

“It started with discussions in July,” Sharkey said. “We had some committees that had met over the summer and the idea was sort of thrown out there as an initiative for the school to start finding somebody to lead this project. And when it was brought up, we started realizing that guidance was feeding people and classroom teachers were feeding people.

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Curricular Resource Teacher Nikki Billetdeaux displays some of the food collected for the Stephen Decatur High School food pantry on Friday, Nov. 22.

“We started to see that, ‘Wow, there’s a bigger need, a much bigger need,’” she continued. “So, that’s how it started, with just the sort of discussion of ‘would this be something that Decatur, being the largest school in the county, should be doing since the other schools are doing something very similar?’”

“I think that educators, and as a school, we feel responsible for not just a child’s academic education, but providing a safe, happy place for students, and I’m not sure that this place can be that unless they’re well fed and they’re not arriving hungry,” Billetdeaux said.

Around 44 percent of Stephen Decatur High School students participate in the Free and Reduced Meal program. But according to Billetdeaux, that number could be higher or lower.

“We also struggle, as some students don’t fill out those forms,” she said. “Because sometimes these kids could have received these services, but for whatever reason, they don’t think they need it anymore or the resources … they don’t know where to go to ask for things like that. It’s about making it more accessible to them as well.”

In addition to providing food during the school week, food-insecure students who are registered to receive meals can take home packages of supplies to get through the weekend or week, depending on their needs. Students with dietary restrictions or food allergies can request specialized packages.

Students can also request additional items like toothpaste, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo and other supplies through the food pantry registration form.

The pantry holds nonperishable items like crackers, oatmeal packets, Pop Tarts, dry cereals and granola bars as well as canned goods such as Chef Boyardee and macaroni and cheese.

“We don’t know when we’re sending this food home, what resources they have to cook it or to open it or what things they have to put with the food,” Sharkey said. “We are gathering things with pop tops … things that can be easily opened and eaten.”

Currently, the pantry is stockpiling food to give to students who might need it to get through the Thanksgiving holiday and winter break. The school has already received donations from local churches and the Maryland Food Bank.

Donations can also be made directly at the school, with a donation food barrel – designed to look like a Campbells Soup can – set up in the front office.

The food pantry is inside a small storage closet in the school, but Billetdeaux and Sharkey hope once more donations come in, they will be able to move the goods to a larger, more accessible room.

“I think what the goal is right now is not necessarily to have people be able to shop from it quite yet,” Billetdeaux said. “We want to expand it to get to that point where other people [can] come in and just grab a granola bar because they had a rough morning … and as students come in and ask us for things, we can send them over there.”

Once the program has expanded into a larger space, students can volunteer at the food pantry to earn community service hours.

“It allows us to take students who are not in any way, shape or form insecure about having food or getting food,” Billetdeaux said. “They are going to have the opportunity to help and volunteer with this pantry to help those students. There are people that are sitting right next to them that they may not even know that have these issues with [food].”

Students can ask for a registration form at the guidance office and receive their packages of food at their own discretion.

The food pantry is open to students during school hours.

For more information about the Stephen Decatur High School food pantry, visit https://stephen-decaturhs.weebly.com/, go to parent resources and click on food pantry registration or call the school at 410-632-2880.

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