As Kim Spurling counted the number of homeless Franklin students and spoke with families living in poverty, she knew she needed to find a new way to help feed more of them.
Right now, 42 percent of Franklin’s roughly 5,100 students are receiving meals at school for free or at a reduced price because their families are at or near the poverty line. The number of homeless students also has grown from 178 in September to 208 now, said Spurling, Franklin schools’ community outreach coordinator.
Spurling spends much of her time meeting with families who need help finding homes and feeding their kids. That includes a mother with six kids at Franklin schools who has trouble getting her children to and from school each day, while also making it to area food pantries to find groceries.
To make finding meals easier for that mother and other parents, Spurling wants to open a food pantry at either Franklin Community Middle School or Franklin Community High School, exclusively for all of the school district’s students and their families. Spurling has seen how the food pantry at Center Grove’s alternative academy helped area residents keep their families fed, and she wants to create a similar partnership with the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.
Next month the school board will decide whether to approve partnering with Gleaners for the pantry. If the board approves Spurling’s proposal, the pantry could be open by the fall, Spurling said.
Gleaners already works with Franklin’s elementary schools, providing backpacks filled with food that students in the free and reduced-price lunch program can take home over the weekend. Spurling also has been meeting with school counselors at Custer Baker Intermediate School and the middle and high schools, and she knows that Franklin has older students who need help getting food as well.
“We’re anxious to have (a food pantry), because we see the need,” middle school principal Pam Millikan said.
The school district wouldn’t have to pay anything for the food pantry. Along with the food, Gleaners would also provide a refrigerator and a freezer. The pantry would be open twice a month, and the school district’s teachers also could get food for students they know don’t have regular meals at home, Spurling said.
If the number of students and families who use the pantry rises quickly, Spurling could contact other food suppliers, such as the Midwest Food Bank in Indianapolis, and begin hosting local food drives.
Spurling wants to work with middle and high school students to collect food donations for the Franklin and other area food pantries. Because the school’s pantry would be open twice each month, some families will likely also go to other pantries, such as the Interchurch Food Pantry on the north side of Franklin.
And if Franklin students are able to help multiple pantries, that will help keep more residents in Johnson County fed, Spurling said.
“We want to make sure that we’re taking care of our own, but we’re also giving back,” Spurling said.