West Suburban Community Pantry opens first in-school pantry
The West Suburban Community Pantry opened its first in-school food pantry at Irene King Elementary School in Romeoville Nov. 21.
The free pantry will be available to Irene King families receiving assistance, for shopping once a week on Thursdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m.. It will provide fresh meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, fruits and vegetables in addition to a full selection of shelf-stable dry goods. The pantry is housed in a full-sized classroom which has been outfitted with shelving units, refrigerators and freezer cases. Goods will be procured through the West Suburban Community Pantry's partnerships with Northern Illinois Food Bank, area retailers and community donations. The pantry will be staffed by West Suburban Community Pantry volunteers in cooperation with school staff and volunteers.
"When children are hungry, they are not ready to learn," says Irene King Principal April Vacik. "We see irritability, fatigue, and an inability to focus. It's tough to concentrate when you are worrying about when you might get your next meal. We need to help parents provide the fuel kids need to be equipped physically, socially and emotionally. We work hard to provide what all our students need. Now with the pantry right in our building, within walking distance of the neighborhood, and staffed by the same people who work with their kids every day, we want every parent to know we are partners in caring for their whole child."
Of the 449 students attending Irene King Elementary, three quarters qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch. Some 266 students receive free lunch. It is expected between 150 and 200 families will take advantage of the pantry.
"We have such a need," says Kathleen Batistich, Valley View School District Community Outreach Coordinator. "Since Dominick's left the neighborhood, families are finding access to healthy foods increasingly difficult. As a nurse and a licensed clinical social worker, I am critically aware that health and wellness are critical to the ability to learn. As a district, our strategic plan includes creating community partnerships that integrate social services that support children and their families," she says. "Our buildings are meant to be centers for the community. Educational success doesn't happen in a vacuum. Having this pantry in the school is part of our commitment to partnerships that remove barriers to learning by promoting healthy families and a healthy community."
The pantry is funded by founding private donors Barbara Gulick and the Ronald L. McDaniel Foundation.
"I've always had a strongly held belief that no child should go hungry or go to bed with an empty stomach," Gulick said. "As a board member of WSCP, when I learned of this school with a high need and limited access to food, I knew I had to do something. I was blessed to have the opportunity to direct some funds to a worthy cause. I chose opening a school pantry so that those families and their kids could have what we all deserve -- food to fill our bellies."
The West Suburban Community Pantry is dedicated to creating a "Community Without Hunger" by providing food for the hungry and resources to improve quality of life. The pantry itself originally was founded in and served the Woodridge community. In the past several years, it has identified an expanding region people living in areas of higher-than-average poverty within surrounding suburbs, including areas of Bolingbrook, Lisle, Southeast Naperville, Downers Grove, Darien, Willowbrook, Westmont and Romeoville. The Woodridge Pantry is open several hours each week. In order to reach people in their own neighborhoods, the pantry also holds mobile pantries monthly in Bolingbrook, Willowbrook and Romeoville. The pantry also delivers food to housebound seniors and recently engaged in a pilot on-line order and delivery program in cooperation with Bridge Communities.
"West Suburban Community Pantry is committed to continuing to find ways to expand the pantry model to reach people where they are. We know people are much more comfortable coming to receive services if they are offered through a trusted partner, like a church, a library or a community center," says Laura Coyle, executive director. "By working with schools, we are able to reach our most vulnerable citizens. The commitment of our funders and our partnership with Irene King Elementary has given us another opportunity to truly facilitate change in the community."