School food pantries

Head custodian Randy Price loads boxes of canned goods for the Harrison Elementary School food pantry into the back of his truck in January 2017 at Rock Creek Elementary School in Twin Falls.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO

TWIN FALLS — Just before Christmas, a student who hadn’t eaten breakfast showed up in school counselor Griselda Escobedo’s office. She dug into her own stash of food to give the student something to eat.

The next few days, Escobedo kept hearing questions at Twin Falls High School about why there wasn’t a food pantry. English and freshman transitions teacher Mary Sorenson encountered those same questions.

“We both kind of had a lightbulb moment,” Sorenson said Wednesday. “I assumed we had (a food pantry) already.”

Sorenson presented the topic to her advisory class and they decided to start one. Escobedo got approval from school administrators.

Sorenson’s students visited classes at the school to talk about the new food pantry and asked their peers to bring in donations. They also made posters and flyers.

The school also received donated food from I.B. Perrine Elementary School‘s food drive.

With the addition to Twin Falls High School’s food pantry, more than half of Twin Falls’ 16 campuses have a pantry to help students in need. Many also include hygiene items such as toothpaste and shampoo, and school supplies.

“Having Twin Falls have a food pantry really rounds it out districtwide,” Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said.

Now, 10 schools have food pantries: Twin Falls High; South Hills Middle School; Bickel, Harrison, Lincoln, Oregon Trail and Rock Creek elementary schools; Robert Stuart Middle School; and Canyon Ridge and Magic Valley high schools.

Sawtooth and Morningside elementary schools don’t have a food pantry, but participate in a backpack food program to send food home with students when school isn’t in session.

Twin Falls High launched its school food pantry the Monday before Christmas break in mid-December. That week, they assisted students by providing food, but haven’t had anyone ask for help since then.

“I’m sure we have needs, but it’s a hard thing to ask for,” Escobedo said.

There tends to be a stigma attached to asking for help, Craner said, and it takes time to build a culture to overcome that.

Sorenson’s advisory students — including 17-year-olds Karee Denton and Kayja Rathbun — are particularly passionate about the food pantry project. The class wants to make it their legacy project at Twin Falls High.

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In addition to food, Kayja said she’d like to see essential school supplies added in the future. Often, teachers dip into their own stash of school supplies to help students if they don’t have a binder, paper or pencils, for example.

Once students collected donations for the food pantry, two counseling office student clerks — 17-year-old Maggie Sauer and 18-year-old Elizabella Cresto — organized donated food onto shelves and labeled items by category. The pantry is in a back room of the library, which used to store old computers and equipment.

Requests for assistance are considered on a case-by-case basis. “If there’s a student in need, they go to the counselors,” Sorenson said.

People have been generous with donations, Sorenson said. An unfortunate problem the school has encountered, though, is many food items had to be discarded because the expiration date had passed.

Another challenge: Food pantries tend to receive an influx of donations around the holidays, but it gets quieter after that.

But Sorenson’s advisory class plans to continue to push forward to seek donations to help their classrooms.

There’s always a need, Escobedo said. “People are hungry year-round.”

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