Pantry Packed

I was at the monthly PTA meeting for the district and someone mentioned the local high school didn’t have a “Pantry Pack” coordinator. I’m pretty big on the idea of food so I figured I’d volunteer. Essentially, “Pantry Packs” are bags of groceries (single bag per student) that is discretely provided to a student on Friday afternoons, to provide them with food to last through the weekend. These are students who are typically on the free breakfast/free lunch program, and even with that struggle to get enough calories. Single parents working 3 jobs, homeless (with or without family), etc.

(Fun fact: Sammamish has its own homeless encampment. And we have kids going hungry in our schools. Trying to juxtapose this with new $850k homes going up down the street with 4″ backyards is making my brain bleed.)

At any rate, I showed up at the HopeLink in Kirkland to help pack the packs. While I cannot divulge the quantities, let’s say my local school was not a big contender when it came to the volume of packs needed. There were schools there that needed upward of 180 packs (packs are done for one month at an assumed 4 weeks per month, so if you are getting 180 packs then you are serving 45 students). Parents and kids volunteered and went down the row of food, grocery bag in hand (also fun fact: disposable grocery bag… what happens when those go away for programs like these?), following the mantra:

1 Chilli, 1 Mac, 2 Soups, 3 granola bars, 1 Saltines Pack, 2 Popcorn, 2 Oatmeal, 1 Cocoa.

Now, whatever your feelings are or aren’t about societal support, charity, food stamps, etc., I invite you to look at that. That is one can of chilli, one (regular box) of macaroni and cheese, 2 ramen noodle soup packs, 3 granola bars (the kind slightly larger than your middle finger), 1 pack of saltines (not one box), 2 microwave popcorn packets, 2 of those single-serve instant oatmeal packets, and 1 packet (as in, makes 1 cup) of cocoa.

I want you to remember, while reading this, that this is for a high school student. And I want you to remember how you ate in high school. Or how hungry you felt. And now I want you to remember that this list is designed to support a person, nutritionally, from about 5pm on a Friday through Sunday night inclusive. So, 3 dinners, 2 lunches, and 2 breakfasts.

Those oatmeal packets are about 120 calories apiece.

When I came home with the packs, the male person and the young man helped me unload the car (Pantry Pack volunteers store the food at their house for the month, and dole it out weekly to the school) and were amazed at how much there was. Then I had them do the math, dividing it by 4 (for weeks) and X (for students). The young man’s jaw dropped –“I’d eat all of that in a day! I’m not even in high school!”. “I know”, I replied. “I’m worried.”

I still haven’t figured out what happens during school breaks. When I sit down to Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Hanukkah dinner, I don’t know what these kids have — and I don’t know what they do for a two-week break.

I am one of these people who just always assumed there were “services” that “took care of this”. That there are food stamps and churches and charities and pantry packs, and for some reason I thought it was more. But I realized when packing up and working with Jennifer — the coordinator there, who is grateful for help but always worries that there’s not enough food — that it’s often not enough, but it’s “something”.

Again, you can look at it from the framework that the parents ought to do more for their kids, they should go get a job at McDonalds, etc., and work their way up. I am absolutely a proponent of doing your best and especially doing your best for your kids. But I don’t see how, if we are approaching this that the “parents are failing them”, how it benefits to not help the kids. We as a society are paying for their education through high school, and we are throwing our money away if they are so hungry they can’t study. If the benefit of public education is to ensure a well-informed, productive society, we are robbing ourselves and setting ourselves up for failure.

We are entering the season of food drives, and of “adopting a family”; the food will hopefully flow and these kids will hopefully get a decent meal and be able to cram for their Physics final like we all did at one point. I’m just saying that we need to not assume the volume of food or services they *are* getting, and to remember to reach into our pantries, if possible, when Santa’s not looming.

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