Right Sizing Our School Pantry Program
It may sound cliché, but the fact is, children are our future. They will one day contribute to society as teachers, doctors, police officers, moms, dads, and more, so it is our responsibility to give them every opportunity to succeed. That’s why our School Pantry Program has been and continues to be so important.
More than 11 years ago, we created this program to provide access to food in the familiar and trusted setting of local schools, so children (and often their families) didn’t have to needlessly suffer the consequences of hunger.
Over the years, we’ve come to realize that school pantries do more than just provide food. They reduce obstacles for students’ academic success, relieve the stress of making ends meet for families, and help strengthen communities by fostering tighter bonds between educators, students, parents, and community leaders.
“I came here today because even the most common stuff—like regular old cheese—is too expensive, and the people here at Baltimore Montessori are here every other Friday with good food, and are real nice, too!”
The Right Resources in the Right Place
The relationship between a healthy diet and academic performance in children is well known, but studies are increasingly drawing a link between poor nutrition and antisocial behavior. One researcher found that if the vitamin and mineral content of food is increased, children are less likely to display hyperactivity-related symptoms and anti-social behaviors. Another group of scholars, meanwhile, determined that a higher intake of leafy green and light-colored vegetables was significantly associated with decreased odds of conduct problems and prosocial behavior problems.
So if an increased focus on nutrition can lead to better outcomes for students, what would increasing the focus on school pantries mean for Maryland?
The Right Data Leads to the Right Placement
When the pandemic closed Maryland schools, shutting off access to food pantries for many families, we pivoted to a contactless Grab & Go distribution model with any group that was willing to help. But, as with many of our initiatives, the pandemic also gave us an opportunity to review, renew, and refresh the School Pantry Program.
Heading into the 2023-24 school year, we’re taking a much more methodical, data-driven approach to our school pantry partnerships, working to “right-size” them to produce better outcomes for our neighbors who visit them. We’re using data from our comprehensive Maryland Hunger Map—which includes child food insecurity rates—to ensure that new school pantry partnerships are as impactful as possible on local communities.
Around the same time, Rite Aid’s Healthy Futures program reached out seeking partnership, as our efforts closely align with their Strengthening Cities initiative to “lift up neighborhoods through caring actions.”
The Right Partnership at the Right Time
In February 2022, we learned that Baltimore was one of the six cities chosen by Rite Aid Healthy Futures to receive a grant to support innovative and sustainable programs that widen food access, address food insecurity, and ultimately improve health outcomes for children and their families.
“With their long and successful history of serving many communities and feeding children aligning so perfectly with our vision for Healthy Futures, it just felt natural to partner with the Maryland Food Bank to deepen efforts together to create healthier and more equitable neighborhoods with a focus on targeted neighborhoods in Baltimore.”
This support gives us the flexibility to increase the amount of nutritious food distributed at school pantries and help feed more students. With strong partnerships, the Maryland Food Bank remains committed to meeting children and families in need where they are, helping to ensure that future generations have a solid foundation for success.
College Hunger Connections
Since learning doesn’t end in high school, neither should food assistance for students. Many of today’s college students struggle to balance the cost of tuition and other bills while paying for nutritious food. That’s why we’re continuing to bring food and other resources onto even more campuses, adding six additional sites in the last two years, including Carroll County Community College—that’s a 55% increase in Higher Ed. partnerships over the last two years!
“Recently, a woman was in tears telling me how much this food means to her, while one young man said he couldn’t make it without the food locker. I receive smiles, hugs, and expressions of gratitude every day.”
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