Ardmore Middle School’s food pantry has been helping students avoid going hungry since 2005, but this year its budget has been reduced, their options are more limited and their most demanding season is right around the corner.
AMS Behavior Interventionist Stephanie Hacker said the pantry mostly receives food from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, but this year, the pantry’s allowance has been cut in half. Canned food drives have supplemented the pantry in the past, but that hasn’t happened this year.
“When it was time to order the food, we were given a budget of close to $800 a month and we had 10 pages of food to choose from” Hacker said. “Now our budget is $338 a month and we have three pages to choose from.”
About 40 students rely on the food pantry to get them through weekends, when they’re out of school and don’t have a steady source of food at home. Every Friday, Hacker and her coworker, Behavior Interventionist Regina Benson, rush to put together identical, easy-to-prepare meals to last kids until Monday.
“Over Thanksgiving, we try to do a bigger basket for two reasons,” Regina Benson said. “Because it’s Thanksgiving, and because the kids are out of school a whole week. Some kids really bank on eating breakfast and lunch here every day. When they’re out of school, sometimes they miss out.”
Long weekends pose a similar challenge. Hacker said they’ve already had to supplement the pantry with items they bought themselves. Last year, their biggest concern was a lack of shelf space.
“It wasn’t a lot, but we’re starting to have to do that kind of thing,” Hacker said. “For example, if we wanted to serve peanut butter and jelly this weekend, we would have to go out and buy bread.”
Packaged snacks, cereal, peanut butter, canned soup and vegetables, ramen noodles, frozen food and boxed macaroni and cheese are some of the standard items the pantry relies on. Single items occasionally get donated as well, but aren’t as versatile.
“Stuff that they can fix themselves is ideal and we try to keep the bags the same” Benson said. “Occasionally, we’ll have a kid who’s had something happen. Maybe they’ve lost a home. When we have one family we’re trying to serve, we’ll use those random items.”
In addition to food, the pantry also distributes school supplies, donated clothing, toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant, and feminine hygiene products to any student who needs them. Parents, teachers and an occasional local business or organization keeps the items replenished.