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updated: 1/28/2013 1:54 PM

Rotary working to make sure kids have enough to eat

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  • Students stock inventory at the District 54 food pantry at Mead Junior High in Schaumburg.

    Students stock inventory at the District 54 food pantry at Mead Junior High in Schaumburg.
    Courtesy of Mead Junior High

  • Businesses from the community have also gotten involved, volunteering at the food pantry.

    Businesses from the community have also gotten involved, volunteering at the food pantry.
    Courtesy of Mead Junior High

By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

Mead Junior High School in Elk Grove Village might be one of the only schools in the area with a food pantry on site.

It serves families in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, and in two years has grown from serving 250 families to 400 this year.

The pantry has been so successful in meeting the needs of local families and building leadership among students who help with inventory, that plans are in the works for a second one to open this fall at Keller Junior High in Schaumburg.

School officials credit members of the Rotary Club of Schaumburg/Hoffman Estates for starting the pantry, when they donated startup money two years ago. They recently donated another $10,000 toward establishing the second one.

Mead Principal Pete Hannigan said the Mead pantry is easy for parents to access.

"The on-site food pantry took away the obstacles parents face, when searching for the pantries," Hannigan says.

The Rotary Club's involvement has led companies in the area to make donations and volunteer at the pantry, Hannigan says. It also has obtained grant money and the help of nutritionists from Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village.

Debbie Schmidt, Rotary president and a business development director for the Alexian Brothers Health System, says Rotary's efforts are intended to help schools address hunger, literacy and poverty in their changing student population.

"Overall, we seek to keep conversations flowing between the local elementary, junior and high schools," Schmidt says, "so that we can keep in touch with their initiatives and current needs."

Earlier this month, Schmidt gave a check to Hoffman Estates High School Principal James Britton to help support 40 of students in the "Blessings in a Backpack" program.

"Over the last few years we have seen a growing need in our students whose families are low income," Britton says. "We now have over 42 percent of our student population that qualify for free and reduced lunch."

The national program makes sure school-age children are fed on the weekends throughout the school year. The food, purchased at cost through the program, is placed in nondescript backpacks which students pick up at the end of the school week.

Better test scores, improved reading skills, more positive behavior, improved health and increased attendance have all been attributed to this program, Britton says.

He credits the donations from his faculty and staff, and the Rotary with being able to provide weekend food for 38 weeks.

"The Rotary's enthusiasm for meeting community needs and financial support for this program have both inspired us and enabled us to respond to the our families' needs," Britton adds. "They are true partners in supporting the health and well-being of children."

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