Charlotte High School works to tackle hunger with own food pantry

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CHARLOTTE, MI (WILX) -- Although it can be hard to think about, there are a lot of kids who go without food when they aren't at school.

That's why one local school district is taking matters into their own hands and trying to make sure kids are well-fed.

A teacher in Charlotte noticed that some kids were coming to school hungry and wanted to help. So he, along with others in the district, decided to make a food pantry in the school calling it the "Bird Feeder" because the school's mascot is the Orioles.

"We'd frequently find kids who'd say after a long weekend, I haven't eaten since Friday, or Thursday when I was at school," Teacher Sean Barker said. "And that just doesn't work. Hungry kids don't learn."

About 50 percent of Charlotte elementary school students qualify for free and reduced lunch, along with about 30 percent of high schoolers.

"You know, we're a quiet, rural community, and we don't necessarily see the huge divide between the people that have and the people that don't. But there are a lot more kids than we like to think," Barker explained.

The "Bird Feeder" will give them a way to get food during the day as needed. The pantry is also available for kids to load up on supplies before weekends and long breaks. Right now the room is being prepped for a pantry, shelves, and a fridge for fresh food for those that need it.

"It's a travesty that we have kids--so many kids that are just not eating. Such a basic thing that they don't have access to at home," Barker said.

And it's not just the high school who is trying to help keep students' bellies full. This year, the district is testing a free breakfast and lunch program for kids in kindergarten through third grade in the early elementary schools.

"There's a need. So when you see a hungry child its hard to not to want help and reach out, take care of them, help them," Food Service Supervisor Brian Latty said.

The district says all of this has been a team effort, and they just want to make sure kids have all the tools they need to learn--without distractions.

"I mean everyone has been in that place where they've been really hungry because they are waiting in a restaurant and it's a 45-minute wait or you couldn't get home to get lunch--whatever it is. You just can't think," Barker said. "And if as adults we can't think when we're hungry...these kids certainly can't. The impact of food on student learning is just enormous."

They are aiming to have the Bird Feeder open by Thanksgiving Break.

The USDA and Michigan Department of Education will evaluate it to see the free breakfast and free lunch program affordable enough to keep the program going in the district. Participation has almost doubled since it began in the early elementary schools.

There is also a room in the school called "The Loft" where students can get clothes hygiene products and more free of charge.

Below is a list of events to help fill the Bird Feeder or help with hunger-related issues in Charlotte:

"Take a Bite out of Student Lunch Debt with Applebee's" - The Charlotte Applebee's is hosting a fundraiser to help with student lunch debt. On Sunday, October 27th, from 2:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m., 20 percent of your final dine-in bill will go towards helping to decrease the meal debts of students at Charlotte Public Schools.

"Stuff the Bus Event" - Participants can drop off non-perishable food or personal hygiene items and grab a treat as they parade through town for the Almost Midnight Madness event. Donations will be accepted on Monday, Oct. 28th in Downtown Charlotte at Courthouse Square from 5:30 p.m. through 7:00 p.m.

"Tackle Hunger" - Participants can bring non-perishable food items or personal hygiene items between Oct. 29th and Nov. 8th to place in the "Go Green" and "Go Blue" bins. Friendly competitions will be taking place in each building across the district.

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