Once the first in-school food pantry in Kane County opens its doors late this month it will serve an estimated 100 families each week, making it the largest pantry of its kind that is part of the Northern Illinois Food Bank territory.
Located in a 900-square-foot space at Carpentersville Middle School, part of Community Unit School District 300, the D300 Food Pantry has been in the planning stages for the last two years and is expected to serve residents within a six-mile radius of the school.
Over the last seven years, mobile food pantries visited District 300 schools about six times per year, said long-time food pantry volunteer Craig Raddatz who has been instrumental in the creation of the new in-school pantry.
However, he said, the mobile pantries were expensive to bring to the area. But it also became quickly apparent that food needs were much greater than what the mobile and other local food pantries were able to provide.
After an analysis of the community’s food needs by the Chapel Mobile Food Pantry Team and the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Raddatz said the decision was made to open the in-school pantry–following a national concept to open permanent pantries in schools to better assess and fulfill the need for food.
The nonprofit D300 Food Pantry was constructed as a self-contained building in middle school’s dock area.
It will resemble a small convenience food market, Raddatz said, “Families will be able to shop for their families at no cost.”
In addition to providing food and milk, the pantry will also offer school supplies, personal hygiene items, household cleaning products, paper goods, and infant supplies—all which cannot be purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
As the sixth largest school district in Illinois, about 53 percent of the Illinois School District 300 enrollment of more than 24,000 qualifies for state federal subsidized breakfast and lunch.
Compared to other school districts, District 300’s need for food is much greater than other school districts in the state, he added.
Ninety-two percent of the students attending Carpentersville Middle School qualify for free or reduced lunch, its Principal Asia Gurney said.
“We have had mobile pantry at the nearby schools, but having it right here in our school when families know they can regularly come to get food will be beneficial and helpful to them,” she said. “The pantry will allow the students to have food for the evenings, over weekends, and long breaks.
“For students, proper nutrition is essential and we want them to be well fed so that they can stay focused and be ready and learn.”
Students in the Carpentersville student service learning club also will be helping out as pantry volunteers.
“This is a great learning opportunity for our students that also allows them to put in some service hours,” Gurney said.
The pantry will be open every Wednesday from 5-7 p.m. including school holidays and over the summer.
“Our objective is more than just giving out free food,” Raddatz said. “We want to give that temporary help. We want to develop a relationship with our families to help them be self-sustaining.”.
As a result the pantry will provide other services such as cooking classes, nutrition education, and SNAP outreach.
The pantry is partnering with other social service organizations such as Elgin-based Centro de Información, which provides bilingual advocacy, information and referral, immigration and naturalization services, parenting skills training, community education and youth programs.
Hopefully, Raddatz said, these combined services will result in his long term objective which is to close the food pantry, because there will no longer be a need for one.
— First-of-kind food pantry to open in Kane County school —