North Carroll Middle School students John Geci, 13, of Lineboro and Matthew Bartlett, 13, in back, of Westminster, restock the shelves of the school's food pantry. This is the second year for the pantry, which offers food assistance to families and individuals in the region. (Photo by Phil Grout / December 18, 2013)

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In a classroom with an outside door, student-made shelves are filled with canned goods as Manchester Valley High School prepares to open its first food pantry on Jan 7.

The high school will be the 16th school in the county to have a food pantry — and there is a need for more.

"There are people living above the poverty line still struggling," said Kate Sam, director of communications for the Maryland Food Bank. "We added school pantries to Carroll County a couple of years ago. We find it is really helping addressing poverty and hunger. Schools are one of the few institutions [that families are in contact with] every day."

At Manchester Valley, Amy Cain, school counselor, and Gayle Bien, an officer worker, saw a growing need for assistance for some students and others in the community. The two went to the Maryland Food Bank for training and will order food from there.

"We don't know how much food is going to be needed," Bien said. "This is new for us."

The North Carroll Middle School community has a little more experience. The school on Hanover Pike in Hampstead is now in its second year of running a food pantry.

Located in a large converted closet on campus, the food pantry helped 60 families last year, according to Ruth Winsker, school counselor.

That number may be exceeded in 2014. Since its opening for this school year, 40 families have visited.

"It's not every week," Winsker said of the visits by families and others to the pantry. "They take only what they need. They use it to supplement."

Unlike many federal support programs, such as WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), it is not necessary to provide proof of income or to state why a family needs the services at food pantries, Sam explained.

"A lot of people are out of work and many need help," according to Manchester Valley's Cain. "Heating fuel, electric, gas bills — it may be difficult to make ends meet."

"Anybody who comes to the food bank, we'll let them have what they need," Bien said.

The two are alerting the public to the existence of the food pantry through fliers posted at the school and around the community.

All students at the school received electronic messages about the food bank.

The outreach seems to be working. The school has already received several phone calls regarding the pantry, Cain said.

Each of the 15 schools in the county currently running a food pantry has its own system for dispersing the food, said Katherine Green, supervisor of pupil personal and special programs for Carroll County Public Schools who acts as the central agency for the pantries.

"Some are open to the public, some only for the students at the school," Green said. "Each site handles its own inventory and ordering. Every pantry looks completely different."

Students at Manchester, for example, have helped build shelves to convert a classroom into a pantry.

The main job for students at all schools is to stock the shelves when orders arrive. Due to privacy issues, students are not allowed to be present when the pantry is open to the public. Parents are encouraged to volunteer as are those who come for its services.

"We do make an effort to engage parents in volunteering by supporting food pantries and helping with distribution," Sam said. "It takes the stigma away when parents get involved and help each other out. It is a creating a community."

"It encourages schools and families to work together," Green said. "It engages families to come to school and engage in their children's learning while helping families meet the needs of their children."

"It's been a good thing for the community," said North Carroll's Winsker. "It's a community effort and a community resource. Anyone who needs it is welcome to come."

Green encourages people to call the schools in their area if they need assistance.

She said residents may also call student services at 410-751-3120 for a list of food pantries in their area.