Number of Participants: 5
Hours Donated: 2
Value of Time Served: $85
Event Type: Hunger
Date: September 24, 2019
Amherst Central High School
Main Street, Buffalo
Title of Collaboration:
Tiger’s Den: Creating a School-Community Food Pantry so No Child Goes to Bed Hungry in Amherst
The Amherst Central School District, in partnership with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Eggertsville and the WNY Food Pantry, expanded an existing food-to-home program for two families at one elementary building into a collaborative food pantry where 43 families across the Town of Amherst were served this year. Based at St. Paul’s Church, the Tiger’s Den Food Pantry allows families to enroll in the pantry program and choose boxed, canned and perishable food items once a month. We also now have household supplies, baby supplies and some clothing items as well as books. For the past two summers we have also added four vegetable gardens to produce fresh vegetables beyond those contributed to by local markets.
Amherst Central School District, 55 Kings Highway, Amherst, NY 14226
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 4007 Main Street, Amherst, NY 14226
Food Bank of WNY, 91 Holt St, Buffalo, NY 14206
When kids come to school hungry, learning becomes second or third priority for that student. There are families in the Amherst Central School District identified through the NYSED report card as economically disadvantaged. School officials believe the number of families needing assistance could possibly be higher than the state recorded data and that possibly pride stops some families from signing up for assistance. The reality was that district social workers saw that children were coming to school hungry and those families did not have enough food at home.
In 2018, of the total 43 families served by the Tiger’s Den Food Pantry, 27 of those have children who attend Amherst Central Schools. The circumstances for eight of those families improved and they no longer need the services. Among the remaining 19 families, there are 49 ACSD students.
The Tiger’s Den Food Pantry is available to anyone who qualifies in the 14226 and 14221 zip codes regardless if they have children attending the school district. There are 16 non-school households that are also being served by the pantry this year.
The Food Bank of WNY joined as a partner in August 2017 to provide additional funding and bring perishable items such as dairy products, meats, fruits and vegetables to the Pantry. The Food Bank was initially approached in 2016. Before committing funds, they wanted to see if the Tiger’s Den food pantry could sustain itself for six months once it opened. The pantry did sustain itself and the food bank became a partner within four months.
The non-perishable food supply grew through food drives and fundraisers organized by Amherst Central Schools and through existing methods of donations already in place from St. Paul’s Church. The school district is also in monthly contact with several area churches to relay to them the foods the pantry is in need of and parishioners donate those items. Many other organizations both in and out of our school district continue to offer a constant stream of donations.
Briefly describe how this was implemented:
In December 2014, Carolyn Catalano, a teacher aide at Windermere Boulevard Elementary School, got the approval from Principal Mary Lavin to start a Food-to-Home program at the school. Every other Friday she would provide two bags of food to families identified by social workers. At first, she helped two families. As more families were identified, there was not enough food donations coming in so she had to cap the number of families and reduce it to one bag per family. Although she was collecting food donations from several churches, including St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the demand and number of families kept growing. A home visit to an Amherst Middle School family while working for the district’s ENL (English as a new language) program confirmed to her that the need existed beyond Windermere and the idea for the food pantry was born.
Over the course of many months, Amherst Middle School Principal John Griesmer, social worker Pam Primerano, Ms. Catalano, and Michael Belle-Isle, assistant superintendent for staff and student services, considered how they could put a food pantry at the Middle School. Instead, the Food Bank of WNY said if the district could partner with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Pastor Steve Biegner and operate a sustainable food pantry for six months, it could qualify for Food Bank funding. Mr. Belle-Isle collaborated with the team and our district administrators, and subsequently decided that the setting was the ideal location due to the Pastor’s passion for helping the school-community, it had the space and the church was already providing food for our Food-To-Home Program.
Bringing the Tiger’s Den Food Pantry to life took a year’s worth of meetings. It opened in May 2017. The Food Bank of WNY became a partner in August 2017, four months after the pantry officially opened. From its inception, staff, community and student groups across the district have supported the pantry with food drives.
School officials continuously make efforts to reach needy families who have children attending Amherst schools. This is done with the help of our social workers. Something new at the May 2018 kindergarten screening is that every incoming family will be apprised of the pantry.
We are proud of the diversity in our district so we created a food pantry flyer in English, as well as in Arabic. This project is an example of many dedicated people within the Amherst schools and community working toward the same goal of helping families so no child goes to bed hungry and can make learning a priority.
What were the outcomes:
The school district purposefully avoids collecting specific data surrounding the children and families involved in our food pantry program due to the layers of confidentiality involved. However, what is very clear in the data is that our most socioeconomically challenged families, continue to show massive gains academically and in daily attendance rate. In fact, Windermere Blvd. Elementary School has consistently moved up in school rankings throughout the years of our Food to Home and food pantry programs. The school outperforms every other similar school and many schools with a wealthy socioeconomic status.
The integration of the Tiger’s Den Food pantry within all of our schools has created a stronger community among staff, students and our families. We have unions, family members, and students leading the way through fundraising efforts and a devotion of their time and money to the ultimate success of this pantry. The entire middle school engaged in a full-year service learning project to support not only the food pantry but also their character education program given the connection between the two. We are seeing this replicated among community groups nearby as well. While many students are benefiting from the pantry with the food and other necessities provided to them, many other students are benefiting from the learning that comes along with helping others and having a sense of community over one’s self. Here is a specific quote from one of the families who benefited from the pantry and wanted to share their sentiment:
“I wanted to personally thank you and the Pantry Team for helping our family to survive 2017. It was a difficult year. Knowing I could give (child named) enough food to get him through when finances were more than difficult was a huge help. We have some clothes, diapers, etc. to donate.”