Some Cedar Rapids students go hungry when school is canceled, so community members stepped up

Pop-up pantries at Cedar Rapids schools send food home with kids in need


CEDAR RAPIDS — With frigid temperatures threatening to close many area schools — and their cafeterias — community members stepped up to the plate to feed students in need.

The Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association and the Cedar Rapids Community School District collected loads of food donations Monday, sending students home from school with full grocery bags as forecast wind chills of up to 60 degrees below zero approached the area.

“Moms really come out of the woodwork when they realize kids are hungry,” said Saige Turner, a volunteer at the Wellington Heights Community House.

Bitterly cold temperatures and heavy snowfall led to school cancellations throughout the Corridor last week, and additional cancellations are planned this week as subzero temperatures move in. Classes are canceled Tuesday and Wednesday in the Cedar Rapids, Marion and Linn-Mar school districts, and Iowa City district schools are canceled through Thursday.


While the days away from school will have academic impacts — many districts already have tacked on additional school days in June to catch up — they also could leave some students hungry.

“I think you don’t understand until you’re made aware of it — how many students rely on free and reduced lunch, how many mouths that is,” said Franklin Middle School Principal Lucas Ptacek, the site of a pop-up food pantry Monday. “With not having school for a few days last week, the meals that they normally have every single day were no longer there.”

At Franklin, about 52 percent — or 328 students — live in households with economic need that qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunch, he said.

School staff loaded up many of those students — as well as others at Cleveland Elementary, Kenwood Leadership Academy, McKinley Middle, Metro High School, Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy, Wilson Middle and Wright Elementary — with non-perishable items, bread and milk at the end of the school day.


The push for supplies started with Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association volunteers trying to get food donations to just a few families in need, Turner said.

“It started as just making up 20 bags, thinking we could help a few families down here. But as we realized the big need, the community support grew as well,” she said. “ ... Food went just as fast as it came the entire day.”

Wellington Heights Community House, 390 15th St. SE, is closed Tuesday. It will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday to residents interested in picking up or dropping off donations.

Pop-up pantries at schools closed as they emptied when students left Monday afternoon.

“We had no clue this would turn to this scale,” Turner said. “But as we discovered the need, resources kept coming in, so we kept finding people to help. There are so many more people that care than we realized.”