Cockeysville Middle School has launched a food pantry to serve the school community and beyond, as staff say they are encountering growing food insecurity in the area.
“When children come to school hungry, they can’t learn,” said school social worker Anna Williams. “They tend to have more behavior problems, more sickness and tend to miss school more as well. We want to make sure our children are well fed so when they come to school it’s about learning.”
The pantry, set up off the middle school cafeteria, opened Dec. 19. Principal Deborah Magness said the idea came as school staff noticed food insecurity on the rise, particularly during the holidays.
In previous years, Magness said, the school provided food baskets for the holidays. Eventually, school officials realized, “Wait, there’s a bigger need” than the nearly one-third of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, she said.
At Cockeysville Middle, 30 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch this school year. But Magness said the popularity of the food baskets suggested even more families might be struggling with food insecurity. The school decided to fill that need throughout the year.
The pantry provides food through a partnership with the Maryland Food Bank, Williams said, as well as donations from the community. Available foods include soups, chili, peanut butter and jelly, cereal, pancake mix, juice and milk. The pantry also had meat donated, Williams said, “so we can give people a balanced meal,” and the school is looking at incorporating fresh produce as well.
The Parent Teacher Organization, volunteers and three local churches – St. Joseph’s Parish, Sherwood Episcopal Church and Hunt Valley Church – set up and stocked the pantry with fixtures including two donated refrigerators and a freezer, Magness said.
“For me, what was really amazing is how the community came together … that speaks volumes about this community,” Magness said.
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“This is kind of an example of what can happen when parents take a vested interest … in wanting to help,” said Brandon Oland, a school system spokesman.
The food pantry will be open two Wednesdays a month, after school at 2:45 p.m. Next month, it will be open Jan. 9 and 23; Williams said community members could also call her to access the pantry in an emergency.
Magness said there were no income requirements or paperwork, and visitors to the food pantry would not need to be connected to students at the school.
“Anybody who wants to stop by – if they say they need it, we’re not going to question it,” Magness said. “We have to work hard to do right by the people in our community. We’re going to trust them at their word.”