By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Northborough – Algonquin Regional High School teachers Gina Johnston, social studies, and Aimee Selby, science, noticed something about some of their students last year – some were coming to school hungry.
The duo recently set up an on-site food pantry in the teachers’ cafe that is now stocked primarily with breakfast foods such as cereal bars and fruit cups. The pantry has been open since October and operates before school, 6:45 to 7:15 a.m. It is staffed by teachers and there is no student involvement because of privacy concerns.
“They come in the morning and they grab what they want… they log in with their student ID number,” Johnston said. “So far we’ve had about 51 [students] and for us we think it’s a low number because we have 150 kids who can access it.”
Selby added: “We need to figure out why they are not accessing it. Is it because they are uncomfortable coming in or is it because there just isn’t a lot of time? Kids kind of roll in and go right to class…We are struggling with that.”
When asked how the food pantry began Selby replied, “I teach science and last year we did a unit on nutrition and I wanted them to journal what they were eating every day… I noticed in the food logs that a lot of them weren’t eating breakfast.”
She started to buy food to keep in her classroom. She suspected others could benefit.
“They were eating a ton so I brought in fruit snacks and all that stuff so it was getting kind of expensive,” noted Selby. “If I have kids like this they must be everywhere.”
Selby teamed up with Johnston to see what they could do to address this issue.
Johnston did some research over the course of last summer and consulted with the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB). Because the school’s population didn’t meet the WCFB requirements, they would need to get their food donations in other ways.
According to Seana Weaver, agency relations manager at the WCFB, the percentage of a specific school’s population that is on the Free and Reduced Lunch program must be 51 percent in order to receive assistance. ARHS’s population is 11 percent.
Johnston reached out to the school’s student government association who bought some food to get them started; Wegmans gave $100 and Hannaford $500 in gift cards and other faculty members have made donations.
The program is still evolving, they are looking for businesses to partner with – and they are dealing with erasing the stigma that kids may have.
Selby and Johnston just want them to be happy, awake and fed.
Noted Johnston: “It’s hard enough to pay attention on a good day but when you are hungry and trying to pay attention is the worst.”