Orion Social Worker Brianna Carnevale and Communities in Schools Orion Site Coordinator Shaun Gatewood work together to operate the food pantry. The Freestore Foodbank supports 66 sites similar to this one, including Orion’s sister school, Alliance Academy of Cincinnati.
These three scholars are filling their backpacks with some of the canned food items behind them.
“The food pantry replaces the Power Packs that I would handout to students on Fridays,” Carnevale said. “The Power Packs provided by Freestore Foodbank were a variety of bagged snacks provided to food insecure scholars. They were meant to be brought home and eaten over the weekend, but we found that many students were eating them at school or on the bus. We just didn’t feel as though they were serving families well. The food pantry helps provide snacks and meals. We feel it is more useful.”
Carnevale and Gatewood have a monthly budgeted amount of $650 they spend in shopping at the Freestore Foodbank. Plus, the foodbank often gets large amounts of food items donated that are free for Orion to have such as a recent large donation from Costco.
The Orion Food Pantry is open to scholar shopping every other Friday afternoon. Teachers who know their students best, know which students are food insecure, and send the students to shop. The number of food items the students can take depends on the number of people in their household. Shopping is divided into grade levels to make the process easier.
This young man found chocolate pudding cups to take home with him.
The pantry is set up in a portion of Carnevale’s office with metal racks provided by Freestore Foodbank. Some examples of food items offered are spaghetti, tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, tuna fish, canned vegetables, soup, mashed potatoes, pancake mix, syrup, peanut butter, breakfast bars, and more.
“Sometimes there is laundry detergent, dish soap, or personal care products, which go quickly,” Gatewood said. “We are also learning what type of things aren’t going very quickly, liked canned chicken. We’re new to this, so we are definitely learning as we go.”
Both Carnevale and Gatewood agree they may need to recruit a few more helpers during shopping. They feel the students could each use a little more guidance with suggestions about what could be done with different food items or asking the students questions about what some of their favorite meals are, or explaining what a food item is that they may never have had before.
All smiles while these gentlemen shop to bring home food for the weekend.
Students bring their backpacks down to carry items home. There are also boxes and grocery bags for students. The majority of scholars ride the bus, so they have the ability to get these extra items home.
“We have a very great need here at Orion Academy. It is a very impoverished area and I feel like our students are hungry all the time,” Gatewood said. “So having this food pantry right here within our school is awesome. We’d like to give a huge thank you to Freestore Foodbank for supporting our efforts to serve our students and families.”
As Carnevale and Gatewood continue to trial the food pantry and its operation, they continue to think of other ways to meet the need. Orion received a freezer that was damaged during delivery, but they’re thinking through the process of how they could get frozen items home. The Freestore Foodbank also has popup produce stands in the warmer months, which could be a possibility at Orion.
The Orion Academy Food Pantry offers a good variety of options.
Carnevale and Gatewood are eager to see what the future holds for the Orion Food Pantry. Right now, they are learning some new skills and feel like they are headed in the right direction to meeting their scholars and their families’ needs!
Orion Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Cincinnati, Ohio, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 99 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.