School Based Pantries

Food Insecurity is a significant factor in student absenteeism

By Nick Rossi
For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students are from low-income families. 51% of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible for the federal program that provides FREE and REDUCED-PRICE lunches. This lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty but the explosion of needy children in the nation’s classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials, and social researchers.

Even in wealthy Sarasota County, 52% of children were eligible for FREE LUNCHES-an an indicator of food insecurity at home meaning that they don’t have consistent access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.

Our Club in partnership with All Faiths Food Bank (AFFB) decided that we should help in alleviating this problem. In 2015 our Club/Foundation awarded AFFB a $60,000 five (5) year grant to place food pantries in all Title 1 schools in Sarasota County. We also committed to operating these pantries where needed. These school-based pantries are located on the school campus, making them a more readily accessible source of food assistance to families in need. They also try to be open at convenient school times so families can shop when arriving at school to pick up their children.
So far, there are thirteen (13) school-based pantries in the program. Seven (7) of these are Title 1 schools. The top three (3) are Emma E. Booker Elementary, Alta Vista Elementary, and Tuttle Elementary with Almost 95%, 92%, and 91% respectively of their students on FREE or REDUCED-PRICE lunches. The school district also provides FREE breakfasts to these schools.

Our Club has taken responsibility for setting up and operating the Emma E. Booker Elementary and Alta Vista Elementary school pantries. Our sister Club-the Longboat Key Club-has taken responsibility for setting up and operating the Tuttle Elementary school pantry. These pantries operate twice a month during the entire nine (9) month school year. Each session takes around two and a half to three hours of clock time and requires between eight (8) to ten (10) Rotarians to set up and operate. The AFFB trucks deliver food pallets to each school. The total amount of food depends on the number of families expected at each session. Rotarians use the AFFB ordering system to select the different categories of food items and their quantities. You might have three to four pallets containing dry goods, frozen meats, and fresh produce. The Rotarians unpack the pallets, set up the shelves with the different food categories, and then open the pantries for registration and shopping. The first half of the total time is dedicated to unpacking and setting up the pantries which can require physical labor. The second half is dedicated to managing registration and the flow through the pantries followed by clean-up and taking final inventory, so we know what to order for next time.