Feed Our Valley: School food pantries filling a need - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Feed Our Valley: School food pantries filling a need

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On average, 30 to 50 students walk through Boardman Center Intermediate School's food pantry a day. Their partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank is now a model for schools across the region. 

Fifth grader Emma Witherow helps her mom cook dinner in the evening but before she leaves Boardman Center Intermediate School, she picks up ingredients to bring home.

"My sisters really love when I come down and get like the ramen noodles," said Witherow. 

She said, "It makes me and my mom and my sisters really happy."

This school food pantry is the first of its kind in the Valley. 

The concept was born last year when another fifth grader asked the guidance counselor if there was a backpack program that provides food to take home, similar to the one at her elementary school.

Mindy DePietro, a guidance counselor at Boardman Center Intermediate School, said, "I'm like, 'Do you think there's a need for that?' And she's like, 'Oh my gosh, Mrs. D. yes.' She goes, 'But we don't want the backpack, no backpack Mrs. D. We don't want kids to see us walking out with it.'"

So instead, 30 to 50 kids a day fill their own backpacks or choose a bag on their way out the door.

Fellow classmates are also putting themselves in their friends' shoes.

"I asked a lot of my friends what they like and a lot of them said ramen noodles and stuff," said Logan Rosko, a sixth grader at Boardman Center.

He donated five to six bags full of ramen noodles.

"A lot of my friends need it and I just want to give back because we have a lot and I dont' think we really deserve that much so I think we should give a lot of it away," Logan said.

Other school districts across the Valley are seeing a need to start a food pantry. 

Eight other schools have either started a pantry or are close to opening one.

As part of a class at Niles Middle School, students check expiration dates and stock the shelves at their Dragon Pantry that just opened this week.

Leighton Chitwood, a sixth grader at Niles Middle School, said, "I like knowing that some kids that are hungry actually can eat."

The superintendent said that 67% of the district qualifies for free or reduced lunches.

Principal Sam Reigle said, "In our building, there are many times where you have students who come to you and say I'm hungry or I'm in need of something." 

Niles Middle School's pantry also provides school supplies and winter gear. Boardman Center's pantry also offers toiletries.

The other schools that have either opened a pantry or are close to opening one are Austintown Middle School (grades 6-8), Boardman Middle School (grades 7-8), Campbell (K-7), Leetonia (K-12), Southern Local (K-12), Warren Harding High School (grades 9-12), and Wellsville Schools.

Mike Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank, said that there are another six to eight schools in the initial stages of planning a pantry.

The next step for Boardman Center is incorporating cooking classes.

The school already had their first session with Tevis DiMascio, a Boardman Lions Club volunteer and former school nurse. She taught the children how to use ingredients in the pantry to make a nutritious and tasty meal.

If you would like to help a school pantry, you can make a financial donation to Second Harvest Food Bank and then specify the school that you want to receive the funds.

Other nonprofits are also helping the pantries in addition to food drives at the schools.

The Boardman Lions Club assists Boardman Center with fundraising and their volunteers help stock the shelves.

In Niles, an anonymous donor came forward and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church recently donated $3,000 to the cause. The church plans to make an annual donation.

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