Fam­i­lies get pantry at Gwin­nett school

Graves El­e­men­tary aims to en­sure con­sis­tent ac­cess to ad­e­quate food.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - METRO - By Ar­linda Smith Broady [email protected]

If you look at a map of Gwin­nett County School Board dis­tricts, you might be sur­prised that each one has pock­ets where at least 10 per­cent of the res­i­dents of­ten have to choose among rent, keep­ing the lights on, gas for the car or food for the chil­dren. They have what ad­vo­cacy groups call “food in­se­cu­rity.”

The term de­fined by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture is the lack of con­sis­tent ac­cess to ad­e­quate food re­sult­ing from the lack of money and other re­sources dur­ing the year. And it doesn’t just af­fect peo­ple who are be­low the poverty level, ac­cord­ing to data from the At­lanta Com­mu­nity Food Bank.

Poverty is just one fac­tor that can make it dif­fi­cult for fam­i­lies to make ends meet. With the fed­eral poverty level at an an­nual in­come of $24,250 for a fam­ily of four, peo­ple who make far more than that of­ten find them­selves go­ing with­out.

Graves El­e­men­tary School is an area where a few miles in ei­ther di­rec­tion shows in­come lev­els across the spec­trum. With 93 per­cent of the stu­dents re­ceiv­ing free or re­duced-price lunch, mak­ing sure they ac­tu­ally get to eat be­came

a goal. With 1,200 stu­dents ar­riv­ing in the morn­ing at vir­tu­ally the same time, there was of­ten a bot­tle­neck in the break­fast line.

The At­lanta Com­mu­nity Food Bank awarded the school $6,000 of a $30,000 grant for Gwin­nett County Schools. Graves used its por­tion for food carts in dif­fer­ent parts of the cafe­te­ria that al­lowed sev­eral ac­cess points so all stu­dents could have some­thing in their bel­lies to start the day.

“The suc­cess of that pro­gram was en­cour­ag­ing,” said Michele Chi­vore, di­rec­tor of the Chil­dren’s Nu­tri­tion Pro­gram at At­lanta Com­mu­nity Food Bank. “We saw 15 per­cent more stu­dents eat­ing break­fast.”

Prin­ci­pal Clay­born Knight wor­ried that many of his stu­dents were not eat­ing again af­ter they left school. He met with Food Bank of­fi­cials in Oc­to­ber, and in Jan­uary, Graves be­came the first school in Gwin­nett County to launch the At­lanta Com­mu­nity Food Bank Food Pantry/Mar­ket Day Pro­gram. It al­lows par­ents to “shop” for per­ish­able and non­per­ish­able items that serve five to seven meals per house­hold. For most shop­pers it amounts to 40 to 50 pounds of food, with about a quar­ter of it be­ing fresh pro­duce.

The next mar­ket day is set for 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 19. Sub­se­quent Mar­ket Day events will be the third Thurs­day of each month.

“We ex­pected about 60 fam­i­lies, and about 70 showed up,” Knight said of the first Mar­ket Day. “We even had peo­ple com­ing in af­ter it was over. We’re go­ing to shoot for about 75 next time.”

The pro­gram, launched in 2017, has seen suc­cess in other school dis­tricts. Graves be­came the 40th par­tic­i­pant. Most are in At­lanta Pub­lic Schools, but Clay­ton, Cobb, DeKalb, Floyd and Ful­ton coun­ties have schools in­volved.

“Un­like pro­grams where stu­dents take home a back­pack of food on Fri­days, we wanted to con­nect kids to re­sources through their par­ents,” said Chi­vore.

Even­tu­ally, Chi­vore said, they’d like to see these pantries self-sus­tained by the schools. Be­sides the in­di­vid­ual schools, the dis­trict nu­tri­tion pro­gram has a hand in mak­ing it work.

An ed­u­ca­tor for 25 years, Knight said he’s ex­cited that this part­ner­ship pro­vides an­other re­source for help­ing ed­u­cate the “whole child.”

“You can’t fo­cus on a test or a les­son if your stom­ach is rum­bling,” he said.

“This was a lot eas­ier than I thought it would be,” said Knight, adding that there are spe­cific guide­lines, and re­cip­i­ents have to fill out pa­per­work. But for four hours a month, his school gets to ex­tend its com­mu­nity reach and take a bur­den off fam­i­lies.

“This goes hand in hand with what we do al­ready,” he said.

The school doesn’t roll up the door­mat at 4 p.m. There are of­ten movie nights, school dances, home­work help and other ways to keep stu­dents, par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers en­gaged with the in­sti­tu­tion.

“This pro­gram is cer­tainly a gift that keeps giv­ing,” said Knight.

GRAVES EL­E­MEN­TARY / CON­TRIB­UTED

Graves El­e­men­tary be­came the first school in Gwin­nett County to of­fer a monthly food pantry to the com­mu­nity. At its in­au­gu­ral event Jan. 23, about 70 fam­i­lies came to “shop” for sta­ples. Each fam­ily re­ceived 40 to 50 pounds of gro­ceries, with about 25 per­cent con­sist­ing of fresh pro­duce, in a part­ner­ship with the At­lanta Com­mu­nity Food Bank.

SOURCE: AT­LANTA COM­MU­NITY FOOD BANK

CON­TRIB­UTED

In Jan­uary, Graves El­e­men­tary launched the At­lanta Com­mu­nity Food Bank Food Pantry/Mar­ket Day Pro­gram. The next mar­ket day is set for 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 19. Mar­ket Days will be the third Thurs­day of each month.

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