Canned meat, vegetables and fruits towered on shelves, waiting for Franklin’s needy families to get help feeding their children.
Clients filled bags with French bread, dried fruits and chips. They grabbed turkeys and bakery cakes that had been donated to the Cub Pantry at Franklin Community Middle School.
Across the county, hundreds of people monthly will be fed from a food pantry based at a school and ran by student or school volunteers. Dozens of students will receive free clothing at a clothing pantry at Whiteland Community High School.
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At least 15 food pantries, nestled in churches and non-profit agencies, feed thousands of people monthly at their pantries across the county. Some might provide clothes or toiletries too.
In the last few years, food pantries at schools have cropped up as school officials decided that a hungry student might have a hard time learning and that their school had ways to meet that need. And schools officials decided that as a place where students go every day, they were best positioned to help provide needy families with a few meals a month.
Half of the public school districts in the county have a food pantry in their district where students can get help. Students at the alternative school in Center Grove run a pantry. Franklin operates a pantry at the middle school. Indian Creek allows needy families with appointment times to shop cabinets of canned goods as part of the backpack program. Whiteland Community High School students can visit a clothing pantry at the school if they need professional wear or a new piece of clothing.
“We as a school corporation know children need adequate sleep and to be fed,” said Kim Spurling, community outreach coordinator for Franklin Community Schools. “We knew we needed to help and answer the call to empty tummys.”
Students need their basic needs to be met in order to learn at school. Those needs include food, clothing and shelter. When one of those needs isn’t met, the students likely will have a difficult time learning, they said.
Warrior Wardrobe, the clothing pantry at Whiteland Community High School, was started in 2013 after Casey Moeller, U.S. history and economics teacher, heard about a student being deducted a point on a presentation because they did not have professional attire, which the student’s family could not afford.
And she heard of a student who didn’t have clothing they needed because they were living on an older sibling’s floor. Moeller decided to start a clothing pantry for the students at her school.
“You expect kids to come in and concentrate when they are living on the floor,” she said.
Since then, she has heard of stories from parents who have to choose whether to feed or clothe their students. The clothing pantry helps bridge that gap, she said.
Part of the reason schools have gotten involved in offering social services to meet their students’ needs is because sometimes the services aren’t available easily anywhere else or the schools are the centerpiece of the community, educators said.
“In this small community, the school is about all you got,” said Scott Wilkerson, mild interventions teacher at Indian Creek High School.
Help is available across the county. However, some students and their families have no way to get there, said Moeller.
“Where can I send them when they don’t have a vehicle,” she said.
Center Grove’s CARE Pantry opened in October 2009 as a food pantry that the district’s alternative school students run.
Beth Bryant, alternative academy director, wanted to find a way for the students to give back. Families in the area were struggling due to the recession and the school district had the resources to help. Starting a food pantry fit with all of the goals, Bryant said.
“It was during a time when the economy was not doing well and a lot of people were struggling,” she said.
Running the pantries can be a school district-wide effort, which can reinforce the community feeling behind pantries, Bryant said.
Franklin and Center Grove pantries partner with Gleaners in Indianapolis to get food for their clients. Elementary school students in Center Grove put together toiletry kits that are handed out at the CARE Pantry and run canned food drives for the pantry. Students and staff donate clothes to the Whiteland panty. Franklin employees volunteer to help clients shop at their pantry.
Employees at Indian Creek High School donate money around Christmas to buy canned goods to be given out and uneaten fresh fruit, milk and other sealed items are handed out to people in need too, Wilkerson said.
Special skills students help run the pantry, an idea Wilkerson got after he saw lines of people forming at the high school for a Gleaner’s Mobile Pantry.
Schools are the centerpiece of some communities and are a natural fit for people to get help, said Wilkerson.
“I saw it as a need and I saw it as an opportunity for my kids to learn a job,” he said.
Here is a look at the amount of people pantries at schools have helped.
District: Center Grove
Total number served so far this year: 2,098
District: Franklin schools
2015-2016 school year: 275 families, 1,517 individuals
2016-2017 school year: 405 families, 1,980 individuals
Indian Creek Pantry
District: Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Schools
Weekly: Serves four to five people monthly
2016-2017 school year: 150 students in 281 visits.
2017-2018 school year (so far): 43 visits
Here are when school-sponsored food pantries are open:
12:30 to 2:30 p.m. every Friday school is in session.
Where: 2911 S. Morgantown Road, Greenwood.
Restrictions: The CARE Pantry is open to any Johnson County resident.
4 to 6 p.m. first Thursday of the month when Franklin schools are in session.
Where: Franklin Community Middle School, 625 Grizzly Cub Drive.
Restrictions: The pantry is open to families with a student at Franklin schools and staff members of the district. There is no income requirement.
Indian Creek Pantry
By appointment. Call Indian Creek High School at (317) 878-2110 if you need assistance.
Thursday morning during fourth period
Where: Whiteland Community High School
Restrictions: Open only to Whiteland Community High School