Anonymous food pantry provides for Morgan County students
Homework, testing, athletics, extracurricular activities and the social hierarchy of the K-12 school system are just a few of the things students deal with on a daily basis.
Take into account the issues some students face away from school, and it’s easy to see why many adolescents and teenagers are struggling to succeed in the classroom.
The Morgan County school system is working hard to ease some of that burden by offering an anonymous food pantry to any student in the system.
The pantry, located at Sparkman School, has been in the system for nearly three years and has seen increased use since first opening.
“The food we have is available for all students, not just Sparkman,” Sherri Mann said. “There are no pre-qualifications. If a student mentions needing food, we will provide for them.”
The idea for the pantry came about approximately three years ago when the system’s federal programs director expressed a desire to start the program.
“Gayle Monk with the Decatur Committee on Church Cooperation and Paula Slayton with Somerville United Methodist Church approached us with the idea of creating a pantry for each school in the system,” Mann said. “We wanted to start a bit smaller, though, to see how everything would go and if a pantry could maintain itself.”
The first pantry opened in a room at Priceville Junior High, remaining there for the first year before moving to Sparkman.
“We didn’t feed very many students in the first year,” Mann said. “Since word has spread about the pantry, we have seen an increase in students and families seeking help, though.”
Mann said the identities of students who reach out for help remain totally anonymous.
“It can be as simple as a student mentioning something to a teacher or staff member at any school,” she said. “That person thencontacts me, and we help the family. It doesn’t run any further than that.”
Mann said elementary students usually approach Family Assistance Through Community workers at their school, while those at junior high or high schools can approach teachers, counselors or administrators.
“The FACT workers are great,” she said. “They are so plugged into the needs of the students and families in their schools, so they are able to assess the basic needs. When they need food for a student, they will call me, or they will go to Sparkman and prepare boxes based on the number of people in the family and their current situation.”
Mann said the pantry is sustained through charitable donations from churches and schools.
“I have about 27 churches on a list that help us out,” she said. “If I see that the pantry is running low on something, I can reach out to one of the churches, and they will help provide.”
Hazel Blackwood, whose children and grandchildren are products of the Morgan County system, said the pantry is just one of many things the system does to take care of its students.
“I think this idea is fantastic,” she said. “Children should never have to worry about food, and the teachers and leaders in their schools are around them just as much, if not more, than their parents are. They really know the needs of the students. Seeing them work to make sure they are taken care of at home is nice.”
Mann said use of the pantry comes in waves. The system provided 26 boxes of food during the year’s first semester, which exceeded the number of boxes given out during the entire 2018-2019 year.
“We might give out three boxes one week and then go two weeks without giving anything,” she said. “Given that it’s still a new program, people are still getting used to it. As people continue to learn about the program, we think it will continue to grow.”
Superintendent Bill Hopkins said the pantry has been great for the system.
“It’s been a tremendous benefit to our students and families all over the area,” he said. “The work of Mrs. Mann and the others involved has been instrumental to the program, and we are happy to see it continue to grow.”