Bringing School Pantries to Hungry High-Schoolers in Raleigh

“Children cannot be expected to sit and learn in a classroom when they are hungry. If we have the opportunity to help meet this basic need, we are going to take it,” says Brandy Lyons, counselor at William G. Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh.

That opportunity now has arrived in the form of a new school pantry, stocked with food by Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS).

At IFFS, we believe hunger exists for 2 reasons: lack of income to purchase enough food and lack of access to enough good, healthy food. Our school pantry program is all about overcoming barriers to ACCESS! School pantries are designed to provide food resources where families already live, work, learn, and play.Started in the Spring of 2012 as part of a partnership with East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) to provide resources for students living in a 120 block zone of Durham,  we currently serve 1 elementary school, 2 middle schools, 3 high schools, and 1 teen center in Durham County. Now, we’re bringing school pantries to Raleigh, starting at William G. Enloe Magnet High School.

This academic year, 34.6% of Enloe students are receiving free and reduced lunch. That means that 925 students are at-risk for hunger and may not know where their next meal is coming from, outside of those they get during school. Additionally, Enloe counselor Brandy Lyons says,

“Like every other school in WCPSS, we also have families in transition who can benefit from additional resources.” That’s why they knew this opportunity to partner with IFFS to create school pantry could benefit their students immensely. “We want all families to feel welcome and supported at Enloe because we believe all students can succeed. Families are the biggest ally we have when working with students, and we want them to feel valued. We recognize that families across all backgrounds are struggling right now because of the economy.”

Enloe school pantry fridge

With our existing school pantries, IFFS has found that having these resources available at the school actually incentivizes parents to participate in school activities at a higher rate than they might if resources were not available. Many school social workers and administrators have noted a marked increase in parent participation in after-school activities since the pantries opened.

But the new pantry at Enloe is not only open to solely Enloe students. Currently in Wake County, 33.7% of all enrolled students qualify for the Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) program. That means that 52,972 children are at high risk of food insecurity in our school system. The magnet school also has 22 “Feeder Schools,” whose students and their families also have access to the pantry at Enloe by appointment or during normal operating hours. These schools have an additional 7,876 children participating in FRL, giving the Enloe school pantry the potential to serve over 8,800 students and their families in need. We can reach over 15% of the county’s most needy children from this ONE site! And, the pantry includes refrigeration, which means it can include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, too!

The pantry opened mid-March and will be open each Tuesday and Friday from 2:00pm-3:30pm and during most evening events at the school. That way, students can get food to take home before getting on the bus, and families who are picking up their kids can access the pantry then as well. If students are hungry during the day, counselors can give them food from the pantry. If those times don’t work for a family, they can make an appointment through one of Enloe’s school counselors to use the pantry at any other time.

In addition to low-wealth students and families having access to the pantry, school staff have access, too! Upon request, IFFS will host a “mini” mobile market at Enloe or any of our school pantries. The pantry is even being integrated into curriculum in some Enloe courses. One classroom teacher and his students will be helping to unload deliveries from IFFS and monitor the temperatures of the refrigerators and freezers daily. Next year, the OCS (Occupational Course of Studies) students will help with this in order to earn on-campus work hours towards their diploma requirements.

While the pantry is only the beginning phases, we hope it can become a model for other Raleigh schools and for schools through the 7 greater Triangle counties we serve. While the school initially had to figure out logistics of how the pantry would work and dealing with increased traffic in the school, Lyons said that Enloe staff are open to trying anything that will help students and their families feel connected to and engaged at Enloe.