Schools look to create, expand food resource programs
As families struggle with the high cost of groceries, there’s a renewed push by school districts to support families with food resources.
PORTAGE, Wis. (WMTV) - On select week-day afternoons at Portage High School, The Market is open.
This no cost grocery store allows all Portage Community High School families to shop for fresh produce, dairy, frozen meat, pantry staples, and basic hygiene products.
The Market Coordinator Elizabeth Hansen says this is the second year of the program. She says last year over 70,000 pounds of food was distributed to the school community through groceries or classroom snacks.
“It’s eliminated the stigma that surrounds utilizing programs like this for families,” said Hansen.
With rising inflation stretching budgets at the supermarket checkout, Hansen expects even more families will use the program this year.
“We do expect that number to be pretty high,” she said.
In partnership with the Portage Food Pantry and Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, The Market provides daily groceries for around 20 to 25 families to take home. This is in addition to distributing classroom snacks or the items families may shop for on a weekly or monthly basis.
“There can’t be enough said about a student coming to school knowing that they will not be hungry,” said Hanson. “Because of the cost of food, it’s going to be a huge benefit to families to bridge that gap in terms of just being able to stretch their dollar a little further.”
Over at Beloit Merrill Elementary School, families can also take items at no cost from the school’s food pantry.
For school food market programs, there are no income qualifiers or applications. Most schools simply request those who use the food market to sign in so coordinators can keep an accurate count of the need.
Merrill Elementary School Principal Brandye Hereford says providing food resources is one way the district can support its families.
“Everyone needs help at some point in life. It could just be for a little bit or it could be a for a longer amount of time,” said Hereford. “Everyone’s journey is different. We are here to make sure that our kids get those basic needs filled.”
Hereford says one of the biggest hurdles for families is access.
“With prices going up and transportation also being limited for families, it’s very important to us to be able to provide the service for families in a place where it’s in our neighborhood and they don’t have to travel very far,” added Hereford.
EXPANDING FOOD ACCESS
The school food markets at Portage and Beloit are inspiring other schools to inquire about creating programs within their own school walls.
Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin supports 32 school market programs and 23 backpack programs. This is in addition to the food pantries set up on college campuses throughout the 16 counties Second Harvest serves.
Youth and Family Initiatives Manager, Brian Squire, says he’s planning to meet with a number of school districts for the first time about providing access like this to their families because of the higher cost of groceries.
“I’ll be meeting with a number of school districts for the first time to just kind of talk through the process of what might be available to them or how we can support them moving forward,” said Squire.
He says food markets in schools help to break down barriers.
“Schools are places where families feel supported and safe,” said Squire. “It’s a place they already count on and it’s a place they trust. What school markets do is normalize the fact that everyone needs help.”
Squire says programs like these can eliminate the stigma for families who may need a helping hand.
“There are times throughout all of our lives where there are things that we need and things that we give,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to teach that lesson in a school setting.”
Hansen says she tries to eliminate the word ‘need’ from The Market’s vocabulary.
“We use the word ‘use.’ Can you use what we’re providing for you?” said Hansen. “If so, you are the perfect person to be coming in here.”
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