When Ryan Sherman discovered students were going to the nurse’s office hungry on Monday morning after a weekend of insufficient food, he knew something needed to change.
Sherman, director of wellness in the Medway Public Schools, partnered with the YMCA and the Medway Village Church Food Pantry to establish an in-school food pantry at Burke-Memorial Elementary School. The purpose of the program is to supply low-income families with sustenance over the weekend.
Beginning in early March, select children can swing by a classroom at the end of the day on Friday and pick up a backpack pre-filled with both ready-to-eat snacks like granola bars and heartier food such as pasta or soup.
“As an educational institution we have a responsibility to take care of our kids and help them be prepared to learn,” said Armand Pires, superintendent of Medway Public Schools. “We need to make sure they have the sustenance they need to engage in their academic work.”
The district was awarded a $1,600 grant from Stop & Shop to fund the purchase of backpacks and food, as well as the construction of shelves. Nonperishable items also can be donated by community members at the office of Medway Village Church, 170 Village St.
The pilot version of the program will serve 15 students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and were chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis. Pires said he hopes the funding partnership with Stop & Shop continues after the initial grant, allowing the school to continue offering food pantry services.
Currently, more than 50 out the nearly 525 students at the elementary school qualify for free and reduced lunch. Sherman said he has seen the numbers rise consistently across the district over the past few years, especially in younger grades. The elementary school serves grades 2 through 4.
“From the outside, [Medway] looks like a typical MetroWest community — pretty homogeneous and middle-class,” said Sherman. “That’s largely true, but there’s still kids with food insecurity. Every year I’ve been here, the number of families with free and reduced lunch increased.”
In order to combat any stigma associated with food insecurity, the organizers purchased backpacks Sherman described as popular and discreet. He hopes to expand the program in the future by handing out recipe cards utilizing ingredients in the packs, so children and their families can take full advantage of the resources provided.
Sherman, who worked in primary care before arriving at his current position with the Medway schools, firmly believes in the power of a healthy early childhood.
“There is such a strong correlation between academic achievement and a student’s health,” Sherman said. “If we can ensure these kids are healthy and able to access academics at this early age, they will be healthy adults.”
Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.