District 16 nourishes students with weekend food packs

Last year, a student at Woodcrest Elementary School behaved poorly each and every Monday morning, but the rest of the week went smoothly.

Students stock the Panther Pantry, started last year, at Spring Lake Park High School. This year, to further combat hunger, District 16 began distributing weekend food packs at its elementary and middle schools. File photo by Elyse Kaner

Students stock the Panther Pantry, started last year, at Spring Lake Park High School. This year, to further combat hunger, District 16 began distributing weekend food packs at its elementary and middle schools.
File photo by Elyse Kaner

The teachers finally figured out the strange pattern: The student was coming to school hungry after a weekend with nothing to eat.

During the week, school breakfasts and lunches were enough to sustain the student, but “Monday mornings were just tough because they went Saturday and Sunday without any food at home,” said Colleen Pederson, director of community education for the Spring Lake Park School District, sharing this story with the school board at its Oct. 8 meeting.

“In order for our children to really be able to focus on their learning, they need to have those [basic] needs met,” said Judi Kahoun, principal at Woodcrest Elementary.

Last year, to help meet those needs, the district developed a food shelf at Spring Lake Park High School for students and their families called the Panther Pantry. The pantry has filled more than 300 orders, but “I was hearing from principals that we had a need that was greater than just providing food from our food shelf,” Pederson said.

So this year the district developed weekend food packs for students who do not attend the high school and don’t have easy access to the Panther Pantry.

The food packs include items that require little to no preparation, such as cereal, juice boxes and Ramen noodles. Even macaroni and cheese requires butter and milk, which families may not have on hand, Pederson told the board.

Kids as young as six should be able to prepare items in the pack and feed themselves over the weekend, she said.

Approximately 1,200 weekend food packs are ready to go, thanks to the help of community volunteers at Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine.

Westwood Intermediate School is already distributing weekend food packs.

“When we see a need, we’re filling the need,” Pederson said.

The project got off the ground with a $30,000 donation from the Panther Foundation after its most recent annual gala. Each year the foundation chooses a Fund-A-Dream cause and organizers selected the Panther Pantry in 2013.

Much of this money will be spent on food from the Emergency Food Shelf Network, where the pantry can purchase bulk orders for a discount, according to Pete Yelle, youth services development manager for the district.

Yelle coordinates the day-to-day operations of the Panther Pantry and the distribution of weekend food packs to elementary and middle schools.

Of course, donations are always appreciated.

“Anything that’s ready-made, easy food that people want to donate to the school district for the Panther Pantry would be awesome – oatmeal, Easy Mac, Chef Boyardee packets – again, those things that don’t need extra ingredients,” Pederson said.

The high school student council and National Honor Society are planning a food drive on Halloween, a districtwide food drive is scheduled for November and the community is always welcome to drop off non-perishable food items at the Spring Lake Park High School main office.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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