John Still K-8 School, home of the Tigers, serves Meadowview, a picturesque name for a Sacramento, Calif., neighborhood blanketed in concrete and bare of trees.
There are 970 students on John Still’s campus, and every one of them qualifies for the free and reduced meal program, which provides breakfast, lunch and a supper snack.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8.6 million children experienced food insecurity in 2013. When food gaps become chronic in these households, poor nutrition and stress can turn into long-term health consequences for adults and children.
More schools are stepping up to help these families. Feeding America, a network of U.S. food banks, says its School Pantry Program served more than 21 million meals to nearly 110,000 children nationwide in 2013 through a variety of models — including boxed meals, and sites where families choose items for their meals.
Amaya Weiss, the learning support specialist at John Still, runs the Youth and Family Resource Center, which houses a food pantry for students and their families.
The food pantry has “lots of Top Ramen, lots of soups, tomatoes,” Weiss says. “My families love pasta, because it’s easy to make. And sometimes the kids just come in here and say, ‘I’m still hungry, can I have something to eat?’ And then we give them that, too.”
Weiss started seeking food donations from Sacramento churches a year ago after realizing many students couldn’t count on weeknight dinners or weekend meals at home. (Her school does not receive support from Feeding America or any other national organizations.)
The food pantry also gives Weiss a chance to connect with parents like Erica Johnson, a single mother of four. Johnson volunteers at the food pantry, and also relies on it. She says her food stamps run out by the 20th of each month.
“That’s when it really gets hard,” Johnson says. “When I’m real low on food, it’s like I wake up and I’m like, ‘Okay, what are they going to eat — I have no clue what they’re going to eat.’ And I sit there, and I’m like … ugh.”
That uncertainty would be hard for any parent to bear.
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