“Every day some of my students were coming to me and saying, ‘Ms. Folk, do you have any food that I can have; do you have any lunch money that I can borrow; do you have a snack that I can have?’” So, Academic Coach Sara Folk decided to do something to help. She stocked her filing cabinet with snacks and breakfast food and passed out lunch money to kids in need, but she wanted to do more. She wanted to help all the students in need at Floyd Middle School.
Folk and other Floyd staff members joined together with MUST Ministries and the Cobb County School District to cut the ribbon on the school’s new pantry August 28. The Floyd Middle School pantry is the twenty-fifth food pantry MUST Ministries has opened inside schools in the Cobb County and Marietta City school districts.
Folk along with ESOL teacher Alicia Lyles teamed up to open the food pantry at the school. The two enterprising teachers sought advice from the counselor at McCleskey Middle School, who helped launch a food pantry at that school in 2016.
Following McCleskey’s model, the Floyd teachers partnered with MUST Ministries to open the school doors to families in need. They spent the next several months raising funds, installing shelving and refrigerators, stocking the shelves and collecting applications of need from Floyd families.
“I think what makes this food pantry stand out is not only is it the twenty-fifth food pantry, but it is also the eighth one that we get to open up that has client choice, meaning that rather than us choosing for our clients what type of food they want, they actually get to come in and do the shopping,” explained Dr. Ike Reighard, President and CEO of MUST Ministries.
Schools like Floyd make ideal locations for food pantries because of their close proximity to the families requesting assistance. Families in need don’t have to rely on public transportation when they shop at local school pantries.
“If you have a pantry in a school where the children are attending, in all likelihood [the families] are within walking distance, and they can get [to the pantry] to get the products they need,” Dr. Reighard added.
The MUST Ministries CEO also credited the school social workers for knowing which students most need the pantry as a resource.
“We are excited that within the first month we were able to serve eight families at Floyd,” Folk said. “We are actually going to be able to help 20 to 30 families.”
Folk and Lyles may be responsible for coming up with the idea of a food pantry at Floyd, where families have the opportunity to shop once per month, but community members, other school staff and their family and friends all joined in to make the food pantry possible.
Although MUST Ministries provides enough food for the number of families that shop at the Floyd pantry, available toiletry items run out quickly. So, the Floyd pantry team asks for donations of toiletries and cereal from the community to supplement what they receive from MUST Ministries.
“When children are living in poverty, there is enough stigma with what they are trying to deal with. Poor hygiene would only add to their difficulties,” explained Dr. Reighard.
According to Folk, about 80 percent of Floyd Middle School students are on free and reduced lunches.
Even on free and reduced lunches, the students still complained to Folk about being hungry. Lyles told those in attendance at the ribbon cutting that the new food pantry will help curb the students’ hunger because they will have more food at home versus only one full meal at school.
“They can focus on their education when they have full tummies,” she said.
Lyles hoped the food pantry shows Floyd students how much the teachers care about them.
This isn’t the first time Folk and Lyles teamed up on a kind-hearted project. They worked together on Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research and started a Helping Hands club at the school. The club includes 60 students who perform random acts of kindness. The students offer a helping hand, just like their teachers did, when they pushed to open a food pantry at Floyd.
For school administrators and teachers looking to take a que from Folk and Lyles and open a school food pantry, contact Chris Fields, senior vice president of programs and administration for MUST Ministries.
For a closer look at the Floyd Middle School food pantry, watch the Cobb edTV video here.