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PTA Council of Baltimore County explores expanding support closets

PTA Council of Baltimore County explores expanding support closets
Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, creator of the Loch Raven Network, speaks to the PTA Council of Baltimore County about setting up similar support networks at the members' schools. (Margarita Cambest/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Some members of the PTA Council of Baltimore County are considering expanding to the schools they represent the effort by a local network group to fight food insecurity in schools.

At a general meeting Thursday evening of the council — an umbrella group of Baltimore County parent teacher associations which helps school PTA members with training and advocacy work — members representing schools across the county heard from the creator of the Loch Raven Network, which offers a “support room” at Loch Raven High School. The designated room at the high school is used to store donations of food, toiletries, clothing and other items for students whose families are struggling financially.

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The group also runs a food pantry at Parkville High School in conjunction with the high school’s parent teacher association.

“Whether you can start this at your school or not, the rates of poverty that we have in this school system are affecting everyone,” Loch Raven Network founder Laurie Taylor-Mitchell said at a presentation to the council. “There’s no question about that.”

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, the percentage of students from low-income families is on the rise nationwide. While around 20 percent of students lived in poverty in 1990, more than 40 percent of students live in poverty today, Taylor-Mitchell said. She said the numbers are similar in Baltimore County.

Taylor-Mitchell shared individual school statistics with PTA Council members, who expressed interest in setting up similar support rooms or pantries at their schools, after the meeting.

Ridgely Middle School PTSA President Yara Cheikh, of Towson, asked how the network handled donations.

Taylor-Mitchell said the Loch Raven Network takes any and all donations to the nonprofit. Cash, gift cards, non-perishable food and clothing are all accepted, she said.

The group stores the items in a closet where school guidance counselors are then able to distribute items as they see fit.

Cheikh said she was interested in starting a similar network at Ridgely Middle, where more than 41 percent of the roughly 1,200 students at Ridgely qualified for free or reduced meals in 2016, according to the Maryland Department of Education 2016 report card.

For Taylor-Mitchell is excited about the prospect of other PTAs starting up support rooms.

“My vision is that the network can grow,” Taylor-Mitchell said, adding that she would like to call the expanded network the Student Support Network.

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