Nutrition Starts in Elementary School

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That fall morning in early October, Naomi Colliver, Guidance Counselor at Arnett Elementary sat at her desk reviewing her schedule for the day. She saw her door open just a crack. As she watched, hazel eyes appeared and then a little face framed in curly brown hair. Antonio, the fifth grader, who had recently moved from Honduras, stood at the door clutching his book bag and looking anxious. As he walked in, Naomi studied his face and could tell that something was very wrong.  He came close to her and whispered in broken English, “Ms. Colliver, I am too tired to study today.” Naomi looked at him with a mixture of surprise and concern. She led him to a chair and sat down next to him. As they sat there together, Antonio whispered his story to her. Antonio’s mother cleaned hotel rooms and she worked third shift. His older brother who was in seventh grade did not know how to cook.

The children had had very little to eat the previous evening. And there was very little in the refrigerator at home other than a couple frozen burritos and some milk. They would not have much more until his mom got paid and went grocery shopping over the weekend. Naomi was troubled to hear this, but not entirely shocked. Arnett Elementary was home to many students who faced food insecurity and poverty. She got to work immediately, finding a granola bar and milk for little Antonio and letting his teacher know. That evening, however, she introduced him to the school pantry at Arnett and sent him home with a packet of chicken flavored Ramen noodles and instructions on how to microwave it. Antonio was thrilled and amazed. The idea of being able to microwave a quick and delicious meal for himself blew his mind.  That night, Naomi made the most important call of all. She called Antonio’s mom, Isabella and invited her to visit the school the next morning on her way back from work. With the help of a translator, she showed her the school pantry and invited her to take full advantage of it whenever she felt she needed food assistance.

Arnett Elementary located in Erlanger Kentucky opened a school pantry in September 2018.  The school, a part of the Erlanger Elsmere Independent school District, serves a diverse community of students. Seeing the needs of the community, Amanda New, the Principal of the school was convinced of the need for a school pantry. “We liked the idea of having a school pantry because it could reach a lot more people and also gave people a choice,” says Naomi. The school pantry is accessible at any time although it has designated working hours twice a month. Tracy Molley who is the Family Resource Coordinator is responsible for reaching out to parents and making sure they are aware that help is available to them at any point. “We are open two days a month from 7:30 am to 9:30 am especially to help parents who are coming off of third shift,” Tracy says. “Coming to a food pantry for help is a little uncomfortable for many people because they do not want to be seen as accepting a handout. We try to make sure they know that they are welcome to our pantry and that they will never be judged.”

Arnett Elementary also offers Produce Pop-Up Pantries a few times a year. The first one was in early September on Parent Night.  “It was a wonderful way to introduce parents to the school pantry,” remembers Tracy. “The gym was filled with parents and a ton of produce. There were watermelons, cucumbers, tomatoes, bags of potatoes, sweet potatoes and baked goods. Every family went home armed with information about the school and a bag full of produce!” The school is grateful for the support offered by the Freestore Foodbank. “We have been able to meet the needs of our community with the help of this program,” says Naomi. “ Our school has gone from being a mere academic institution to being a community hub. We are proud to be able to meet the needs of the families we serve and to introduce them to the idea of nutritious and healthy eating.”

To learn more about School Pantries click here.

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