The food pantry at Seaford Middle School is deliberately discreet. Housed in a set of locked filing cabinets inside the school nurse’s office, it has become a lifeline for families in need – many of them transient. That’s a deliberately discreet term for homelessness.
Ann Covey, RN, BSN, is the school nurse who schedules the private appointments for these families, orders stock for the Harry K Foundation-sponsored Food Pantry, and recruits volunteers to help keep families of Seaford School District families fed.
The pantry opened in February and Covey believes “it’s going well, but getting established.” Volunteers are needed to meet with families who make an appointment to “shop,” or select 30 pounds of food and 5 pounds of personal or household items from the shelves.
Household items, such as laundry detergent, deodorant, and shampoo, are especially popular, since they can be costly, cutting into an already limited budget.
“We’re not here to give handouts. We give a hand-up, and this gives families an opportunity to use money they would have spent on food to use for their kids. We also want them to get connected to other resources,” she said.
Last year, the Food Bank of Delaware distributed 119,298 pounds of food through 31 school pantries.
In addition to housing a school pantry, Seaford Middle School also participates in the Food Bank of Delaware’s backpack program. Backpacks provide students with weekend/ holiday meals.
“The Backpack Program is very successful,” said Covey. “Last year, we started with 12 students, and we had 75 – out of 850 students – participating in the program.”
In the 2017-18 school year, the Food Bank served 5,931 children through 114 backpack sites statewide.
Seaford Middle School also provides free breakfast and lunch to every student; Breakfast is taken by carts to each classroom, but there is a grab-and–go option set up in the lobby for late arrivals.
Many of the students walk as far as 2 miles – no matter what the weather – to get to school, and sometimes they arrive late and drenched.
As the school’s nurse, Covey sees a tremendous benefit to providing students with breakfast. “I can tell you I see fewer stomach aches related to hunger in the mid-morning. That has been resolved,” she said.
“It’s a good start to the day. The school is saying ‘Let’s come in and get warm and ready to learn.’,” she said.
Covey notes that she has reaped some personal reward as a result of her hands-on involvement with the school pantry.
“I’ve learned a lot. There are things that we take for granted, like can openers and eating utensils. People look for pop-top cans. A transient population has no access to these things,” she said.
She’s even engaged Sunday School students from her church, Mt. Olivet UM Church, to make birthday bags for children who may not have an opportunity to have a birthday cake or celebration.
“I’ve very pleased. We are getting new families and building relationships,” Covey said.
Visit www.fbd.org to learn more about the Food Bank of Delaware’s school programs.