The Marion School District is committed to ending hunger for students at home.
For the second straight year, any student that qualifies for free or reduced lunch can attend a food drive Tuesdays from 3-4 p.m. behind Marion Junior High School, and the program runs through the summer.
The program seeks to help bridge the gap between meals that students eat during the school day, and looks to ease food insecurity at home.
“Students all over the country wonder where their next meal will come from,” said Marion Deputy Superintendent Hugh Inman. “Our goal is to ease that burden for them and their families. Us being able to offer this assistance to qualifying families will help provide our students with nourishment, and create a less stressful environment.”
When parents go through the line, MSD faculty will check the students' lunch status, and if they qualify, then they're able to take groceries home.
A $30,000 grant from the Arkansas Food bank fuels the food program for more than 40 MSD students every week. The meals last year consisted of shelf-stable food items, but this year, MSD can offer perishable food with added freezer space.
“We have our own food bank here on campus,” said Marion Director of Federal Programs Julie Coveny. “The food can range from packets of Gatorade to cereal. Last week, we gave away some frozen macaroni and cheese dinners. We've done chicken. The program has grown a lot, and we're excited about it.”
MSD faculty places their bi-weekly order on the food bank website, choosing from items donated or purchased. The food bank fills the order and makes deliveries to the central office.
Shelby Langley oversees “Patriots Out Working” (POW) a group of students who help move and organize the food upon arrival.
“We have a ton of good help. Mrs. Langley's students handle the food pantry side of it,” said Coveny. “They mark the items based on the date and store it accordingly. We put our orders together to be sent out, and those students create the food bags for us.”
After POW students create the food bags, MSD faculty show up ready to work on Tuesday afternoon.
“We try to create meals when it's possible,” said Coveny. “We've done hot dogs, mustard, relish, and chips for one meal. We've done jars of spaghetti sauce with pasta, too.”
In addition to food, families have also received can openers, diapers, paper plates, and other household necessities.
The program has opened eyes to many of the staff at MSD to the everyday struggles of families around town.
“We had a dad who would come through the line, with a little boy in the back seat, and he was always so quiet,” said Coveny. “The last few times he's come through there, he's shown us what he's done at school that day and been much more talkative.”
Coveny also keeps a thank-you note from one family in her office.
The next step for the program calls for even more space to accommodate refrigerators, freezers, a meeting room for guardians, as well as washers and dryers.
“It's an excellent resource that most schools do not have that we're able to provide,” added Coveny. “We want to take our little bitty project that we started and make it much more.”