Attending school and thriving does not come easy for many Delaware children, especially children living in poverty. For thousands of children, excelling in school is the least of their worries when home life is less than ideal. Many of our children are sleeping on floors in motels, living in households destroyed by opioid addiction, taking care of younger siblings, and being raised by grandparents and other family members. Life is challenging for many kids by no fault of their own.
Fortunately, many resources are available in Delaware schools to help children and their families through challenging circumstances and times of crises.
Eisenberg Elementary School in New Castle is one of those schools providing a hand up to families and students during times of need.
Molly Perdue has been Eisenberg Elementary’s School’s School-Based Family Crisis Therapist for the past 14 years. As an employee of the State of Delaware’s Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services, Perdue wears many hats at Eisenberg.
She describes herself as both a counselor and social worker. “I meet the best of both worlds,” she says.
Many students come to school “with baggage that is hard to leave at the front door,” explains Perdue. “They come in tired, they come in hungry. Colonial is hands down the best at feeding the kids… We do the best we can to make sure hunger is not a factor. We remove that barrier.”
To help provide additional food resources to students and their families when the school day is over, she also partners with the Food Bank of Delaware through our Backpack and School Pantry programs.
Perdue says that participation in these programs helps to build relationships with the school’s families. She provides food assistance services through the school pantry to 8-15 families on a regular basis, and each week, upwards of 45 students receive a backpack full of weekend food.
The school pantry at Eisenberg is impressive. Perdue has a large room that serves as not only a food pantry, but also a clothing and basic essentials closet. In addition to food, clothing and winter jackets, Perdue also distributes crock pots, hot plates, cleaning supplies and hygiene products.
Many of the students at Eisenberg are homeless. Three motels surround the school.
“Families don’t have the ability to use their food stamps to their full potential,” she explains. “We provide hot plates and crock pots so they can cook in the motel. On their first visit if they are living in a motel, I instantly ask if they need this.”
Most of the food in the pantry comes from community donations. Thanks to a generous sponsorship from the Harry K Foundation, Perdue can supplement her donations with food from the Food Bank. Perdue relies heavily on the Food Bank for frozen meats.
When a family visits the food pantry, they can select up to 30 pounds of food and five pounds of hygiene products. As a choice pantry, families select only the foods that are best suited for their household and dietary preferences.
In addition to services through the food pantry, Molly also pumps air mattresses and sends them home to kids who are displaced.
She advises teachers to be on the look out for students who may be experiencing challenges at home, “I tell them, ‘Look down on the first day of school, if they don’t have a new pair of shoes on, they are probably a kid you need to keep an eye on. Most kids come in with new shoes on the first day and have new backpacks and school supplies.'”
For schools considering a food pantry or hosting the Backpack program, Perdue encourages them to take advantage of the partnership with the Food Bank.
“It really isn’t that hard to do,” she points out. “When the families come in [to the pantry] for their first time, it takes a little bit longer. I am talking maybe 20 minutes, but once they know the lay of the land and where things are, it goes much faster. It’s not as much as you really think it is.”
When food donations come in, Perdue weighs them and utilizes student or parent volunteers to help stock the shelves. “There are people who want to help,” she says. “There are parents who utilize the pantry who want to give back and pay it forward. You will even see them bringing things to you. It makes them feel like a valued partner.”
“I believe wholeheartedly that school, and everything really, is about relationships and relationship building,” she explains. “To be able to help people builds that relationship. They will trust you even more. It does nothing but good things academically for students.”
Interested in partnering with the Food Bank of Delaware to better meet the needs of Delaware students and their families? To learn more about the School Pantry program, click here. To learn more about the Backpack program, click here.