Cache Valley Food Pantry Launches New Program for Schools
By Tara Bone, contributing writer
EACH YEAR, Cache Valley Family Magazine honors an organization or individual with the Outstanding Community Service Award for significant contributions to our community. This year’s recipient is the Cache Community Food Pantry (CCFP), an organization that has adapted and grown to continually meet the changing needs of our community since 1970.
From the beginning, CCFP’s mission has been to ensure that no one in Cache County goes to bed hungry. As a 100 percent community-supported organization, CCFP relies on donors and dedicated volunteers, some of whom have been with the pantry for over 18 years. The pantry only has two employees and most donations come from local grocery stores, bakeries, and other businesses.
According to Matt Whitaker, CCFP director, the pantry serves an average of 175 families each week at their 359 South Main
Street location in Logan. In addition to these families and individuals, the pantry serves 24 other nonprofit organizations in Cache Valley. Some of these include schools, senior centers, special needs facilities, and even Utah State University.
In recent years, CCFP has created innovative ways to meet the needs of the Valley’s growing population. The Weekend Backpack Program, in which school children in need are sent home with food in backpacks over the weekend, is one such program. The program was successful, but according to Jake Netzley, CCFP warehouse manager, teachers and schools saw that more could be done to help children and families.
“There was concern that just because students moved on to middle and high school, their need didn’t disappear,” Jake said.
In 2018, under Matt’s leadership, Food for Schools was started to meet this need. CCFP established free-standing pantries in all Valley high schools and middle schools and most elementary schools. Mountain Crest High School (MCHS) and Green Canyon High School (GCHS) already had running pantries on their campuses, Jake said: “We saw that these programs had great success, so we developed a program that would involve all schools between the two school districts.”
Today all schools, except four elementary schools, have stocked food pantries onsite. Jake and Matt emphasize that food at the schools is for students; it’s not intended to feed the entire family. To help families, all 33 Cache Valley schools have been provided with vouchers that teachers and administrators can give to families in need, who can then go to the CCFP Logan Main Street location for a one-time, no- questions-asked visit. Long-term assistance can then be applied for.
Matt said feedback from school administrators and teachers for Food for Schools has been positive, and school administrators see a real and positive impact on student learning and behavior. Matt says schools have shared multiple success stories and teachers are excited that they don’t have to use money out of their own pockets to buy food to help students.
“It’s making a difference in how students are able to go to school; it’s one more tool to help them be successful,” Matt said. “It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry.”
One Food for Schools success story is MCHS. Kris Hart, Mountain Crest counseling department head, has been at MCHS for almost 31 years. She sees how valuable the program is in helping administrators and teachers provide a safe and trauma-free learning environment for students. Kris cites data through the free and reduced lunch program that shows one in three kids at school is hungry.
“The behavior issues go out the door when hunger and anger decrease,” Kris said. “At school you’re supposed to perform, to be up, and happy. We can’t fix what’s going on in their homes, but we can provide a safe place where students can become educated and graduate.”
For Kris, the program ultimately helps kids feel part of the community. “Kids can feel ‘I am part of the community and the community cares about me,’” Kris said.
Five years ago, MCHS partnered with the American Vista Program to start their food pantry. They refer to their pantry as The Giving Place, and over the years it’s expanded to offer school supplies, clothes, shoes, and eye glasses. But when they first needed help, Kris said Matt and the CCFP jumped right in and have been with the school to help provide food from the beginning.
“The food pantry has always been so amazing and generous to us,” Kris said.
For those who argue that free and reduced lunches are already provided, Kris points out that these meals aren’t enough calories for most high school students who are growing. The pantry items offered at school include fruit cups, cups of soup, cheese, juice, milk, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and fresh fruit.
Each high school has autonomy to run their onsite food pantry as they choose to meet their needs, and this year in conjunction with Food for Schools, CCFP is launching Adopt-A-Pantry. Matt says Adopt-A-Pantry will encourage high school students to work with local businesses to keep their school pantry running. He says Adopt-A- Pantry’s goals are to give real-world experience to students, to help students feel ownership of their pantry, and to allow more community businesses to be part of the program. Just another way the CCFP is working to make Cache Valley a special place for all to live.
For more information about the Cache Community Food Pantry or to adopt a pantry, visit them at cachefoodpantry.com, on their Facebook page, or via phone or email at (435) 753-7140 or firstname.lastname@example.org.