Eastern Illinois Foodbank Addresses Food Insecurity At High Schools
By Sean Powers
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank has launched a new program to make healthy food more accessible to low-income students and their families. It gives high school students a say in what goes on the table.
The School Pantry program began earlier this month at Mattoon and Charleston High Schools, and it is expected to be rolled out to Champaign’s Centennial High School shortly. A food pantry is set up at participating schools. Students who are considered eligible for assistance by school administrators, teachers, and cafeteria workers are allowed to shop at the pantry.
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s Andrea Rundell said students are not using money to purchase items from the pantry, but rather points given to them based on the size of their households.
“We would like to use this program in order to be able to place pantries in communities that we know don’t have pantries, so that we can start filling the gaps that we have, especially in our rural communities,” Rundell said.
Speaking at a hunger symposium on Tuesday night, Charleston High School Principal Diane Hutchins said at her school, the program has helped students who may be too embarrassed to ask for help on their own.
“What do teenagers do? Sometimes they steal food. Sometimes when food is available, they hoard it. Lots of times they don’t even step foot into the cafeteria. They find another place in the building to hide,” Hutchins said. “Sometimes they keep themselves from making friends. They don’t make friends because they don’t want people to know that they don’t have food.”
In addition to the School Pantry program, The Eastern Illinois Food Bank has a similar effort underway at 25 schools in which younger groups of students are given food in their backpacks to last them a couple of days. With that program, the students don’t have any say in the food they get.
According to the group Feeding America, less than two million people in Illinois face food insecurity, meaning they lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.