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No Kid Hungry grant to fund emergency food assistance

A $50,000 grant awarded through the national No Kid Hungry program to Lenoir County Public Schools will help stock emergency food pantries at middle and high schools and provide meals to carry at-risk students through their weekends.

While buying groceries for distribution as early as March, the grant will also serve as seed money for a more expansive effort to bring the same food assistance and nutrition education to older students that the district’s elementary schools now provide, according to LCPS Child Nutrition Director Danelle Smith, whose department won the grant.

A tall man and a short woman holds baskets of food items standing in front of shelves of same. “We wanted to do something for middle schools and high schools because there are a lot of programs that we’ve been doing for elementary schools,” Smith said. “We need more resources for our older students.”

A task force of Child Nutrition managers and school counselors will help reconfigure the “backpack buddies” weekend meal program active in elementary schools for students in need at Kinston, North Lenoir and South Lenoir high schools; Woodington, E.B. Frink and Rochelle middle schools; middle school students at Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School; and middle and high school students at Lenoir County Learning Academy.

“I would like to work with the school counselors to find out who those at-risk students are so we can pinpoint those students and let them take a bag home on the weekends,” Smith said.

“It’s not going to be just a bag. It’s going to be nutrition education for families from No Kid Hungry. It won’t be long before these students are shopping on their own, and my hope is that we can help them learn to take care of themselves. We don’t want to just give them food. We want to educate as well.”

New or expanded pantries at the same eight schools will provide temporary food assistance for students’ families. “If there’s a parent that loses a job or if there’s a fire, we can have food already in a pantry and allow the family to come in and fill a bag,” Smith said. “We would be working with our social workers and with counselors at all of these schools.”

Kady Long, a history teacher at North Lenoir High School, and the Student Government Association that she advises started an emergency food pantry at the school after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Stocked by student-led food drives and community donations, the pantry primarily provides short-term assistance to students.

The prospect of having district-level help in keeping food on the shelves and potentially providing more food to more families is “amazing,” she said. “A lot of our students who have used the pantry in the past have used it to feed their whole family or used it to feed younger siblings. The need is there and it’s always going to be there.”

No Kid Hungry – a campaign of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to solve problems of hunger and poverty – is taking a special interest in LCPS’s emergency food pantry project, one of three in the country it funded this year as a pilot project. “They’ll be watching to see what works,” Smith said.

Weekend meals and food pantries, as Smith and her staff envision it, are just the beginning. To enrich the program, she anticipates creating “a bridge” between LCPS families and the Lenoir County Farmer’s Market – a source of locally grown produce – and to sustain the program, she hopes to facilitate donations.

“The money only goes so far,” she said. “By reaching out to businesses and the community we can do food drives the beginning of next school year to keep it going. We don’t want to just spend $50,000 and be done with it. We don’t want that to happen.”

Photo caption:

Emergency food pantries – including this one at North Lenoir High School – will be created or expanded at seven schools thanks to a $50,000 grant from the national No Kid Hungry program to Lenoir County Public Schools, a grant that will also provide weekend meals to at-risk middle school and high school students in the district. North Lenoir principal Gil Respess and history teacher Kady Long, who founded her school’s pantry after Hurricane Matthew, show samples of what’s now on the shelf.