Student food pantries on the rise

Photo of tuna cans.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Fall Creek Middle School in Lawrence is taking care of its own with a food pantry just for students to use over the weekend. 

It’s a popular idea that has been picked up by several central Indiana school districts, but the “Paw Pantry” inside Fall Creek Valley (FCV) has been around since 2012. 

Kim Duncan, the pantry’s coordinator and leadership teacher at FCV, tells News 8’s Brenna Donnelly the pantry was originally planned out and executed by students. They moved into an old science classroom, removed the Bunsen burners and beakers, and replaced them with canned veggies, boxes of ramen noodles and tubs of toiletries, to name a few. 

The pantry is still staffed by students in her AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) who also hold fundraisers and food drives to keep shelves stocked. Those students don’t know which of their FCV classmates use the pantry, but they can see the shelves empty out at the end of the week. 

“They come down, they get their backpack and they literally shop like it’s a grocery store,” Duncan explained. 

Friday afternoons, Duncan and other administrators help about 30 students get the food they need for the weekend and tuck is discreetly into their backpacks. 

“There are kids that leave school and don’t eat again until they come back to school,” said Duncan. “When you’re a middle school kid all you’re thinking about is when you’re going eat next. Food is like the number one thing at the top of the mind all the time and to not know if it’s going to be there at night is pretty detrimental.”

MSD Lawrence Township has 63 percent of students on a free or reduced school lunch. At FCV Middle, that percentage is 65 percent. Duncan says between 30 and 35 students use the pantry each Friday. 

The volunteers stocking shelves this week were 8th graders happy to help. 

“I decided to get involved because I just like helping out other people,” said Brandon Betanzos, 14. “I’m feeling happy because I know that this Friday other people will come in that are in need, to get the stuff that they need.” 

“They don’t have to wait until they’re grownups to make a difference, they’re making a difference right now,” said Duncan, “and that’s huge.” 

Paw Pantry staff operate a Go Fund Me account to help buy food, and toiletries. They also take donations of pantry food and winter coats. Duncan says students had raised enough money to buy a refrigerator and freezer and can now stock milk and other fresh foods. 

MSD Lawrence Township has a similar pantry at both secondary schools and at Lawrence North and Lawrence Central High Schools. A recent pantry now open at Belzer Middle School uses an Amazon Wish List to request pantry items from community members.