Over the past few years, schools across the country have been opening up food pantries for students who may be struggling with food insecurity.
Here in New Hampshire, teachers at Rundlett Middle School in Concord have opened up their own. Biz Logan is one of the teachers responsible for the creation that is known as the “Blue Duke Care Closet,” named for the school’s mascot. He spoke to NHPR’s Peter Biello.
What made you decide to start this at Rundlett?
I’ve been teaching here at Rundlett for ten years, I was a special education teacher, but most recently moved over to teaching health. So you’re talking a lot about nutrition in the classroom, realizing that food insecurity is an issue at our school, and it’s hard to talk about nutrition and eating healthy when students are struggling just to find food at home. That was the first thing. We have 36 percent, I think, of our population is free and reduced lunch at our school, which is higher than the state average. We knew that it was a problem and something that maybe we could target here at Rundlett.
When students come to the Blue Duke Care Closet, are they getting food for that day at school or are it for home after school or on the weekends?
The first goal for us was to provide food on the weekends because what we realized that these students who at least were qualifying for free and reduced lunch, they were being fed here at school, breakfast and lunch, so we were more worried about the weekends. What we do right now is students receive a bag on a Friday afternoon, they bring it home, and that will provide them with meals for the weekend.
What challenges did you face setting this up?
Actually, to be honest there weren’t a lot of challenges. We were shocked by the amount of support we got right away. It started as an idea that I ran across with my colleague, Dave Malay, who helped me get this up and running, and when we mentioned it to administration, they wanted us to start right away, honestly. So we got a committee going and we began at the beginning of the school year, so we have received lots of support, from parents and community members and students and staff. It was actually less challenging then I had expected.
And when you say support, are you getting donations of both money and food from parents and the community?
The first thing we did was do a school-wide food drive. From that, we had a lot of parents ask, “How else can we help?” We’ve had cash donations given to us to purchase food. We actually had a generous family who actually donated 75 backpacks because what we do is when students start with our program we give them a backpack, and then they bring that each Friday so that they can fill it with their food and they have something to carry home.
For some students it could be embarrassing to go to a food pantry. How do you handle that?
It’s very discrete. It starts with a letter to the families, a parent would just fill out the form saying they would like some support. It goes in a sealed envelope to the office and then I’m actually the only one who gets the letters. So I make a spreadsheet of the students and no one else really knows besides maybe a guidance counselor or someone they receive the bag from. What we do is actually ask them where they would feel comfortable picking up the bag of food each week. Many of them identify a guidance counselor, some of our new American students feel more comfortable in their kind of home base classroom, and we distribute those bags discretely to those locations. The student at the end of the day when they’re comfortable picks up the bag and puts it in that backpack we provided, so really nobody knows they are receiving support.
How many students are coming to use the food pantry?
Currently, we have 26 students that receive food bags each week.
Why do you think there are that many?
Well, honestly, I think that there will be more. All we did was give out a letter to the students at the beginning of the year asking if families would like support. I think that there’s a lot because of that high population that we have who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but also a large number of our students are new Americans. I think we have six percent of our Rundlett students are new American students, and of our 26 students receiving meals we have about a third that are new Americans. So they are coming in with limited resources or at least access to resources.
Do you expect to have this again in the next school year?
Yes, definitely, and we are hoping to expand. One of our goals is to start adding hygiene products to our list of things that we’re giving out; right now it is just food items. We also are hoping at some point clothing.
Producer's note: If you’d like to donate or learn more about the Blue Duke Care Center, email firstname.lastname@example.org