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School food pantries meet parents in need where they are

School food pantries meet parents in need where they are

VINELAND — Last year, Vineland schools saw a need in the community and created a once-a-month food pantry at the Landis Avenue administration building.

“And then we noticed a need at all the individual schools, as well as parents are walking here and they don’t have a way to get to Landis,” said Vineland Schools food service director Purvesh Patel from Sodexo.

On Monday, Patel and representatives from Inspira Health and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey cut the ribbon on a new pantry inside the Sabater Elementary School and Casimer M. Dallago Early Childhood Center, where parents who are dropping off or picking up students will have a chance to collect food for their homes.

The pantry is one of a few in South Jersey where elementary and secondary schools are trying to ease access to items needed in economically depressed areas.

In November, Pinelands Regional Junior High School in Little Egg Harbor Township opened its Legacy Center to help families in the district pick up toiletries and food, wash clothes and access computers where they can pay bills or apply for jobs.

Mother of three Stacy Golden said the center has helped her tremendously.

“They’re spectacular, they’re just so great,” said Golden, of Little Egg Harbor. “I have three teenage boys. Anytime you need their help, they’re available. They’re not like going to the local food pantry.”

She said she has picked up socks and other clothes, toiletries and household items, which has freed up funds so she can pay her bills.

Pinelands employees Allison Laurence, Cathy Schaffer and Dan Grasso developed the Legacy Center because they saw a need in their community, where 11.5% of children live below the federal poverty level.

“It takes a village, it’s true. And that’s what the school is about. We’re about community,” Laurence said. “Especially where we live, it’s such an economically depressed area. We’re here to help.”

In Cumberland County, the median income of families is $42,282, the unemployment rate is 7% and 25% of children live below the federal poverty level. Patel said those data show the need of the community, but having an accessible location like a school helps even more.

“This is more than just putting food in the hands of the community,” Patel said, adding schools are more like community centers and safe spaces for families.

The food pantry in the school is a way to reach families where they are.

One hundred families from the Sabater school were pre-selected for the pantry this month, but more will be able to sign up.

The pantry there is open once a month at the end of each month, and the pantry at Landis Avenue is open once a month at the beginning.

Patel said he hopes other schools take notice of what is happening in Vineland and open up pantries.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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