Crisis Center opens food pantry at Tate Alternative High School

Those involved hope to help students, families

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IOWA CITY — Students at Elizabeth Tate Alternative High School and their families now have another tool to help them in and out of the classroom — extra food.

The Johnson County Crisis Center on Monday launched a new food pantry inside the school, 1528 Mall Drive, Iowa City. Students can access the pantry throughout the day to get snacks or food to take home and families of the students can visit the pantry from 2:45 to 5 p.m. on Mondays and 2 to 4 p.m. on Fridays.

“If you don’t have enough to eat, you’re not able to study,” said Natalie Veldhouse, coordinator of the Crisis Center’s Community Food Projects. “How can you do any of that? You can’t.”

This summer, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors allocated $42,000 through emergency hunger relief grants for the development of a mobile and school food pantry. The mobile pantry program launched last week and serves three mobile home parks.

Tate Alternative High School was chosen as the site for the school pantry because it has a free and reduced lunch rate of 63.9 percent, almost 30 percent higher than the Iowa City Community School District’s average. Also, the school had already started developing a pantry with Trinity Episcopal Church so all three organizations could work together.

“They don’t have to wonder or worry about when food is coming next,” said Amber Herring, the school’s student family advocate. ‘They’ll be able to take however much they need, whatever they need.”

Sarah Benson Witry, the food bank and emergency assistance coordinator, said in the future, Crisis Center staff would like to expand pantries into all the secondary schools with the ultimate goal being to get one in every school.

Veldhouse said while some area elementary schools have backpack programs — where students are sent home from school with packaged food — the programs don’t extend to middle and high schools.

But hunger does.

After research, she said Crisis Center staff chose a food pantry model, which could provide its individual and family level access.

Herring said her goal for the pantry is to make sure no student at Tate goes hungry, even if asking for food makes them uncomfortable.

“It’s OK to ask for help,” Herring said, adding she tells students, “You’re free to help yourself. I don’t need to know anything.”

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