Starting Food Pantries at Schools Help Kids Thrive

Genesis, 4, eats lunch at a summer meals program in Phoenix, Arizona.
August 14, 2019
by Paul Morello

Summer break is winding down and that means another school year is right around the corner for many communities across the country. Going back to school in the fall often brings to mind book bags, notebooks and trips on the bus. But for the nearly 30 million children who rely on free and reduced-price school meals every day, it also means they’ll be getting the nutrition they need.

When kids have access to healthy meals every day, they feel better, do better in school and have fewer behavior problems. They have what they need to grow and just be kids. And the national school breakfast and lunch programs are a tremendous part of the effort to make sure kids thrive. But when school is over for the day, there are gaps that need filling. 

And one innovative way that Feeding America is filling those gaps is with the school pantry program.

Together with Feeding America’s network of food banks, the program helps set up food pantries that are conveniently located on-site at schools for families of students in need. The school food pantries complement school breakfast and lunch programs, providing access to food for children and their families after the school day has ended. 

School administrators, food bank staff and parents work together to set up the pantries, which generally distribute fresh fruit and vegetables as well as canned food. Some schools provide a dedicated space for the pantry where families can walk through and pick out their food. Others distribute pre-packed bags of food inside the school. Still, others are mobile markets, distributing food at the school out of a refrigerated food bank truck.

Schools are a natural fit for food pantries – they provide an easy-to-access location that parents and students feel comfortable in and visit regularly. While some parents might not be able to visit traditional food pantries because of distribution times or location, in most cases school pantries distribute food at the end of the day when parents are already at the school to pick up their children.

Locating food pantries in schools means the program is able to connect kids and their families with the healthy food they need during the weekend. Just how much of an impact does the program make? Every year, school pantries serve 21 million meals to nearly 110,000 children. 

Want to help feed kids during the school year? Ask a school near you if they have a pantry and encourage them to work with your local food bank to start one if they don’t.