Panther Pantry food shelf started at SLP High School

In her years of teaching, Candi Schroeder has seen hungry kids whose parents have lost their jobs, hungry pregnant teens and hungry kids who have been kicked out of the house.

Ninth-graders Jeremiah Fern, left, and Devin Deckard, of District 16’s Learning Alternatives Community School, help stock the recently opened Panther Pantry food shelf housed at the school. Photo by Elyse Kaner
Ninth-graders Jeremiah Fern, left, and Devin Deckard, of District 16’s Spring Lake Park High School, help stock the recently opened Panther Pantry food shelf housed at the school. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Schroeder, a speech language pathologist at Spring Lake Park High School, poses a troubling question.

“How are you going to educate kids if they’re hungry?”

Perhaps, the school has come up with a partial answer. Earlier this year, the high school opened its own food shelf dubbed the Panther Pantry (the panther is SLPHS’s mascot).

But donations of non-perishable food and personal hygiene products are running low. As an answer, the school is holding a food drive that started Dec. 3 and runs through Dec. 21.

The idea behind the pantry is to get food to students from low-income families and to homeless students.

“It has been a really good resource for the students who are needing food and other personal supplies,” said Jeff Theis, director of the Learning Alternatives Community School, where the pantry is located. “We have quite a few who access it on an ongoing basis.”

‘Nothing to eat’

Why the need for a food shelf in Twin Cities suburbia?

In talking to staff members, it became apparent there was a need, said Pete Yelle, SLP District 16’s community education coordinator, who spearheaded the effort to get the pantry up and running.

“There’s kids that come to school with nothing to eat,” he said.

Before the shelf got started, Yelle was in talks with Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine. The church was looking for additional ways to reach out to the community. The church started collecting canned food goods last summer and because of its generous donations, the food shelf was stocked and open for business at the beginning of the school year.

“I think it makes everyone feel like they’re doing something to help,” said Suzy Schultz, outreach director at Christ Lutheran. “The church is enthusiastic. It’s a nice tie-in for us. We’re always looking for ways to be involved in the community.”

How it works

Students using the food shelf must first fill out a request form and return it to the main office by Tuesday at 3 p.m. They select their needs. For example, among food requests are ready to eat meals, such as soup or SpaghettiOs, or meals that need to be prepared, such as macaroni and cheese and canned fruits and vegetables.

Personal hygiene requests are shampoo/conditioner, soap, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste and toilet paper, to name a few.

On Wednesdays, learning alternative students organize the pantry and fill the orders. On Thursdays, the food is available to discretely be picked up and taken home in backpacks. Students return the empty backpacks for the next person.

Yelle estimates the pantry has helped about 35 students and their families since September.

Schroeder, who helps facilitate the food shelf, hopes it will take off at the high school. “I love this. This is my favorite part of my job,” said Schroeder, pointing out the food shelf, located in a corner of a learning alternatives room (the learning alternatives school and high school are housed in the same building complex). Steel racks are filled with cans of food, soups and cereals. Schroeder opens two more wooden cupboards to reveal a few more canned goods and rolls of toilet paper. Cupboards that are running low of canned goods and personal hygiene items.

Building job skills

The Panther Pantry not only helps hungry students and families, it builds job skills for students who stock the cupboards.

The students learn focus, how to follow directions and organizational skills, Schroeder said. They learn about the first in, first out concept, continually moving the more dated cans toward the front of the racks and placing the more recent donations in the rear. (The pantry does not distribute cans past the expiration date.)

The students work together, up to three in a team. They fill the orders and deliver the food to either the learning alternatives office or the main high school office for pick-up.

“This is teaching them what they do on a job,” Schroeder says.

But the food shelf continues to receive requests. It is running low. The pantry is seeking more canned goods. Especially needed are canned fruits and snacks, such as granola bars, popcorn and fruit snacks. In the personal hygiene area, diapers and toilet paper would be appreciated, Schroeder said.

“A lot of people access food shelves in the area, but they always need more (food),” Yelle said.


Panther Pantry Food Shelf food drive, Dec. 3 – Dec. 21

All non-perishable food and personal hygiene donations welcome but the
pantry is running low on the following:

• quick meals, such as macaroni and cheese, spaghetti sauce or other quick meals
• canned fruit
• cereal
• snacks, such as granola bars, fruit snacks, popcorn
• baby food, formula and jars of food

Personal products
• diapers
• shampoo
• conditioner

Donations may be dropped off at the Spring Lake Park High School at 1100 81st Ave. N.E., Spring Lake Park.

The Panther Pantry food shelf accepts monetary donations. Send a check made out to Spring Lake Park Schools Community Education, 1415 81st Ave. N.E., Spring Lake Park, MN 55432.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]