Peach's Pantry feeds hungry kids
SIERRA VISTA — Every day there are students who show up to school hungry.
These students can get free lunch and even breakfast at Sierra Vista Unified School District schools but when it comes to the weekend, sometimes they’re mostly on their own.
So each Friday, since last semester, the district’s Public Information Officer Sarah Pacheco loads up canned soups, microwaveable meals and other food kids can easily make themselves and makes the rounds. She stops at each school nurse’s office, dropping off as many backpacks as there were kids who came forward to the nurse, asking for help.
On Friday that was just 18 students at two schools but more schools will be ready by next week, Pacheco said. She’s gotten the program, which centralizes similar programs done at some school sites, more organized over the summer and anticipates a larger demand.
Last year, on an average week, she would deliver more than 30 backpacks, she said.
If demand increases as the schools jump on board, the trick will be having enough donations to keep up. She started the program, called Peach’s Pantry, herself last year, giving up personal hours to sort food.
Thanks to some volunteers, Pacheco is not alone this year in setting up a storage room at the former site of Apache Middle School. On Wednesday, several mothers from Village Meadows Elementary School were busy cleaning, organizing and checking expiration dates.
“We just felt really bad for all the children that go without,” said Heather Lawley, one of the parents.
“We didn’t want to sit around not doing anything anymore.”
While volunteering at Village Meadows, she’s seem some of the kids who need help but didn’t know how many there are.
“I was amazed by the numbers, It’s saddening,” Lawley said.
Many of the students are identified through the district’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act program, though not all the students served under this program need extra food outside of school.
Last year there were 174 students identified as homeless, said Carol Jordahl, district homeless liaison. But this doesn’t mean they’re sleeping on the streets.
Some of these students are in foster homes, others are in and out of motels or shelters and most are living with some form of family or friends, Jordahl said. In the past, the district has had students living in substandard housing, places without basic utilities.
Unaccompanied youths can sign up for help too. These are students not living with a legal guardian due to temporary hardship, Jordahl said.
Signing up for McKinney-Vento assistance gives students access to free meals, clothes, immunizations, dental work and more. Through donations, Jordahl sometimes pays for caps and gowns for students who wouldn’t want to walk at graduation otherwise.
The goal is to make their lives as normal as possible, she said.
The Peach’s Pantry program is separate from the McKinney-Vento assistance. Pacheco never asks for the students names, she just gets a number from the school nurses.
“They’ll have kids that repeatedly come in complaining of stomach aches, because they’re hungry,” Pacheco said.
She gets the food from school drives and private donations. Pacheco asks for non-perishable foods that are easy for kids to make, like soups, pastas, peanut butter and crackers.
She’s partnered with the Education Foundation of Sierra Vista to accept monetary donations.
For more information about the program and how to help, contact Pacheco at 515-2723.
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