On Friday afternoon, students from Clinton High School Climb into a small, empty classroom-turned-pantry and start examining the shelves. The shelves are lined with canned goods and other non-perishable goods, like peanut butter and rice. The pantry also offers snacks and a commercial refrigerator for perishables.
Students can take as little or as much as they want, but are usually given a drawstring bag to fill with items of their choosing. When there is an increase in stock of an item or items that students do not select, administrators often pack up large boxes of food and give them to a student’s entire family.
The CHS Pantry – called the Dark Horse Pantry – is open to students, faculty, and staff who wish to visit. When the students walk in, they are given information about healthy eating and eating, then select their favorite foods from the pantry to take home.
According to North Carolina Department of Commerce, 16.8% of Sampson County residents live in poverty. Aware of this need, the Second Harvest Food Bank and the North Carolina Community Action Association in partnership with Clinton City Schools to start a food pantry – the first at a high school in the county. Together, they set up a pantry equipped to deal with food insecurity among students and employees, but also in the department.
In addition to preliminary data, Clinton High School conducted a survey of its student body to assess their needs.
To further increase interest in the pantry, the CHS has begun hosting “tasting nights,” where the school creates recipes with pantry ingredients and features pantry foods that students can taste.
CHS director Susan Westerbeek said one of the goals was to make sure students don’t “gravitate the same type of food and venture out and try new things on the plane. nutritional”.
To ensure that nutritional options are available and that students know how to prepare these options, the school partners with Sampson County Cooperative Extension.
“One of my goals in partnering with the pantry is to use some of those funds that we have at the federal level that we go through North Carolina State University to help children turn to the easiest and healthiest choices and to make it easy and engaging for them as well,” Sydney Knowles, Family and Consumer Science Extension Worker.
Knowles says the recipes she offers are designed to use low-cost foods that students would likely find in the Dark Horse Pantry. The recipes are simple and straightforward, so even those with no cooking experience can use them.
“If you look at all the counties in the east and southeast, our poverty rates are pretty high. So having a pantry that can help kids access healthy foods or just foods in general that they might not be getting — I think that’s really crucial,” Knowles said.
Community support and partnerships
Dr. Linda Brunson, president of the Clinton City Schools Board of Education, took a particular interest in the pantry. She said it couldn’t be so successful without the support of the local community.
“All we have to do is make a request to the community, and we’ll get what we need,” Brunson said. “Our community is so supportive of everything we do.”
This has manifested itself in donations from many community organizations and businesses. Donations include food items from Tropicana Supermarketfood donations from Church of the olive groveand monetary donations from other community members.
In the future, Knowles plans to return to CHS to teach a cooking class. In addition to the recipes provided, Knowles will work with students on food preparation.
Fight against food insecurity district wide
At Clinton City Schools, eligible elementary students receive “Backpack Buddies” on Fridays to help supplement and provide meals on weekends. These usually include canned goods and snacks. The program is sponsored by the First United Methodist Church of Clinton and currently serves 150 children.
When students arrive at high school, this service ends. Now the Dark Horse Pantry will help fill that need.
Each week, the pantry serves approximately 20 students. On its first tasting night in early March, about 300 school students sampled produce from the pantry.
“The kids deserve it,” Bruson said. “There shouldn’t be anyone hungry in our school district.”
A pilot program “up to the bar”
According to the North Carolina Community Action Association, the Dark Horse Pantry is the only high school pantry in the county.
Elle Evans Peterson, director of health policy and equity for the North Carolina Community Action Association, said the pantry at Clinton High School was the start of a series of pilot programs aimed at putting in place pantry at high schools in the Cape Fear area.
The Dark Horse Pantry has set high standards for schools that follow, Peterson said.
“It really has to do with dedication, understanding and willingness to put in the time and effort,” Peterson said. “It’s not just time and effort once – it’s time and effort, every week, all the time, sometimes every day, and that’s a remarkable and unique characteristic, especially in schools in the city of Clinton.”
The North Carolina Community Action Association says part of the Dark Horse Pantry’s success is its willingness to address food insecurity among students and their families.
“Children can’t learn when they’re hungry,” said Sharon C. Goodson, executive director of the North Carolina Community Action Association. “In many rural communities like Clinton, when a child is hungry, we know the family is hungry too. The CHS Dark Horse Pantry leverages multiple resources to meet multiple systemic needs. It helps meet a child’s nutritional needs so they can learn, but it also provides the whole family with vital food resources to help the household stay stable.
In the coming weeks, the pantry will expand its offering to include personal care items like shower gel and deodorant. There are also plans to organize a food drive for families around Easter.
“It’s great to see a community come together like this to really put in the work,” Peterson said. “And it’s not just about saying the right things, it’s about actually following through on what you say is important.”