Thanks to the generosity of the Delaware KIDS Fund, a Harvey Hanna charitable fund, Richey Elementary School in Newport opened its new school pantry last school year.
“After our initial visit to Richey Elementary School, we learned about the percentage of students at Richey in need,” said Ryan Kennedy, Executive Director of the Delaware KIDS Fund. “We walked through the halls, met with teachers, met with administrators and met with students and you couldn’t help but feel inspired. We believe, in order to remain a strong community (and continue to strengthen a community) we need to take care of our next few generations now.”
Jaclyn Durant, MSW, LCSW is the Family Crisis Therapist at Richey Elementary and runs the pantry.
So far, the Richey school community is seeing the importance of the school pantry.
In addition to meeting the immediate food needs of school families, the pantry also serves as “a good way to build relationships,” said Durant. “It’s such a benefit for the families.”
The Richey school pantry features several lockable rolling carts filled with basic household staples like pasta, sauce, soup, tuna fish, peanut butter, cereal and hygiene products.
Food for the pantry comes from the Food Bank of Delaware.
Parents who have utilized the pantry so far are thankful for the assistance said Durant.
Families who have sought assistance experience a variety of challenges. Recipients of help have included a dad who was involved in an accident and has been in and out of work, working families who are struggling to make ends meet on limited incomes, families who don’t qualify for social services, but are still experiencing hardship, and many more.
For schools considering a food pantry, Durant encourages them to “do it.”
She added, “It’s a great way for parental engagement.”
Each school pantry is flexible depending on the available space. Some pantries who partner with the Food Bank feature lockable carts in a hallway, while other pantries consist of shelves in a physical closet. Some are able to accommodate refrigerators and freezers, while others are not.
In addition to the school pantry, Richey Elementary also participates in the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack Program. Thanks to the program, more than 65 kids participate each week during the school year. They take home a bag full of easy-to-prepare foods for consumption over the weekend and holidays when school is not in session.
She has been a social worker for 15 years and recognizes the important role that nutrition plays in the lives of children. Hungry kid are more hyperactive, preoccupied and lack focus in the classroom she said.
Richey Elementary works to address child nutrition on multiple fronts – all students receive free breakfast and lunch during the school day. “We offer two meals that families don’t have to worry about,” said Durant.
In addition to nutrition help, as the Family Crisis Therapist, Durant also provides families with a multitude of resources including referrals for other services.
This past summer, Durant worked with students over the summer through a four-week program. Students enjoyed tennis lessons, art therapy, nutrition education classes conducted by Food Bank of Delaware Community Nutrition Educator Julia Holmes and more. Transportation was provided for each student and lunch was included through the Summer Food Service Program.
Many of the resources at the school are made possible thanks to Harvey Hanna and the Delaware KIDS Fund.
“We’re very grateful for Harvey Hanna,” she said. In addition to the food pantry, the foundation has made it possible for the school to have iPads in the classrooms and warm coats for students through Operation Warm.
“We need to provide them the tools they need to succeed,” said Kennedy. “Whether it’s through a meal, a coat or a hug – we have to be involved and help motivate…. and not place all that pressure on our hard-working teachers and administrators. From our amazing experiences at Richey, we have witnessed it first-hand. Healthy food and activity are fundamental to a child’s ability to learn – students will perform better in school, feel motivated, feel inspired, develop strong self-esteem and ultimately grow up to be our next community leader, first responder, teacher and beyond.”
Kennedy hopes others are inspired by the work of the Delaware KIDS Fund, “We live by the motto, “Community Strong” and we hope our actions inspire other groups, businesses and organizations to get more involved to ultimately be community strong. As for food closets, our goal is to open five food pantries’ in five years at five schools.”