Indian Mills School is promoting the theme “We are Family” throughout the 2019-2020 school year, and they’re making sure students and their families are given extra food on the weekend to address the need for meals.
IMS Principal Nicole Moore announced at the Nov. 19 Shamong School District Board of Education meeting that school nurse Jennifer Simpson and school counselor Stacey Boyle-Weller pitched the idea of creating a food pantry.
“What they’ve done is they sent letters home to specify families that are in need,” Moore said. “Some of the families we got off of the free or reduced lunch program list.”
Each family and kid identified for the pantry are kept 100 percent confidential; only Simpson and Boyle-Weller will know the identities of those in need.
Families were notified about the food pantry by letters sent home, helping the school build a list of families who are in need.
While some families have declined the donations, Moore added they still have a good list of families to help on the weekends. Without offering too much information on how kids will receive the items, Moore and Simpson said teachers will stock kids’ backpacks while the child’s class is busy.
“A kid will probably say ‘My bag is very heavy,’ but they’re not going to know why it’s there,” Moore explained. “Nobody else will know why it’s in their bag.”
Food insecurity is growing in the township. Moore said in her 18 years at the district, she’s seen the need for things like a food pantry growing as enrollment for free or reduced lunch has grown. Roughly 10 percent of the student population at IMS experiences food insecurity, according to Simpson.
Food drives occur at various points of the school year, mainly around the holiday season, to address the need, but Simpson and Boyle-Weller wanted to address the year-round need for food instead of focusing on a certain time of the year.
Seneca High School, where Shamong students attend high school, has an in-school pantry for students who are experiencing a need for the goods over the weekend. The high school was one of the inspirations for the two women to present the concept to Moore.
“We thought there was a bigger need for a continuous help to have food,” Moore added. “We’re going to have the kids bring the food home and we don’t want any barriers to transportation and everything.”
Kids and staff are asked to bring in non-perishable goods as well as toiletries to stock the pantry, and some civic groups have stepped up to donate food. The pantry itself is also in a secure, discrete location within the school.
“This is a giving time of the year and we’re very happy that we’re able to give back to our families here in our own town,” Moore said.
Additionally, the school is accepting Target and Murphy’s Supermarkets gift cards to give to some of the families in need identified during the holiday season to purchase groceries.