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Rundlett Middle School offers food pantry for Concord students

  • Rundlett Middle School health teachers Biz Logan and David Malay in the Blue Duke Care Closet, the school’s new food pantry, in storage space off the multipurpose room. Lola Duffort/ Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Sunday, April 15, 2018

In a storage closet off the multipurpose room at Rundlett Middle School, shelves are lined with canned peaches, jars of peanut butter and boxes of pasta. It’s the “Blue Duke Care Closet” an in-house food pantry that two health teachers, David Malay and Biz Logan, launched this year for students in need.

“We have a really high number of free and reduced (-price) lunch students here,” said Logan, who came up with the idea after she started talking to students about nutrition after transitioning to teaching health.

In the Concord School District, nearly 36 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch this year, according to the state Department of Education. Eligible students aren’t necessarily all food-insecure – meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from – but that statistic is the leading indicator of economic hardship in schools. And in Concord, it’s about 10 percent higher than the statewide average.

Between 2014 and 2016, about 1 in 10 households in New Hampshire was food-insecure, according to the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. That’s higher than before the recession.

And there are other, more anecdotal clues that such a service is necessary. Logan said several teachers noticed students hoarding food at lunch to take home.

Rundlett isn’t the only school in New Hampshire running a food pantry. At Franklin High, kids can grab a snack or a winter coat from a repurposed classroom now dubbed the “Karma Korner.” And Logan said she was in part inspired by her mother, a principal in Rochester, where Spaulding High School runs a similar program.

Though a small portion of the food has been purchased from the New Hampshire Food Bank (using money from fundraisers), most of it is donated, using boxes left at area businesses. Malay has been strategic about the rotation of businesses he’s picked – he started with gyms in January, assuming people would be clearing out their pantries and trying to get in shape. As the weather warms, he’ll hit the ice-cream stands. Student volunteers also help, packing the bags and tracking expiration dates to make sure none of it goes bad.

The food is discreetly distributed in backpacks to about two dozen students once a week, right before the weekend. Students pick where they feel comfortable picking up the backpacks, and only counselors and Logan, who maintains a spreadsheet of the students and their drop-off locations, knows who they are.

Maintaining the privacy of the kids who use the food pantry is paramount. But Logan said she also tries to talk about things like food insecurity in class to destigmatize it.

“We try and make it like it’s not embarrassing if you need help,” she said.

Logan and Malay said it makes sense to have a food pantry at the middle school – most Concord kids will go through Rundlett, so it’s an easy way to get resources to families in need. And it’s particularly useful for people who might not know their way around.

“A large number of our students receiving the bags are new Americans. So they don’t necessarily know what resources are in the community,” Logan said.

Right now, Logan and Malay say they’ve got enough food to give all the kids who have signed up a bag of food to take home each weekend. They’d like to expand that to a couple nights during the week, too.

They also want to figure out how to get a steady stream of food to kids in the summer when school shuts down. And they want to start carrying other things kids need, like personal hygiene items and clothes.

The middle school is thinking about rebuilding sometime in the next few years. Malay said he wants to try to make sure the Blue Duke Care Closet has some dedicated space.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)