SYCAMORE – To help Sycamore schoolchildren and their families from going hungry, Kristi Crawford, principal of West Elementary School, and Atlee Mathews, social work intern, have been working since last fall to create the Spartan Food Pantry.
After months of planning, the Spartan Food Pantry is set to open. The pantry’s first date is Wednesday, Oct. 3, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The pantry will be located inside West Elementary School, 240 Fair St. in Sycamore.
The pantry will be open to family members of children in Sycamore School District 427. Visitors to the pantry only need to bring a photo ID, which will be used to verify their relationship to a Sycamore school district child via school enrollment software.
The food pantry will continue every other Wednesday, even functioning over winter and summer breaks.
“People need food year-round. Hunger and the need for food doesn’t stop when school isn’t in session,” Mathews said. “The food pantry will help empower students and families within the district. They won’t be hungry, they’ll have nutritious and delicious foods.”
Crawford said the creation of the Spartan Food Pantry would make a positive difference in her school: 55 percent of West Elementary students qualify for free and reduced meals, the highest rate in the district.
“I think it all started last fall in October, after an anonymous donor helped bring a mobile pantry to our school,” Crawford said. “Northern Illinois Food Bank contacted us about starting a pilot program, and we’ve been working on bringing a food pantry to the Sycamore school district ever since.”
As part of the pilot program, the Spartan Food Pantry received two industrial-size refrigerators, two industrial-size freezers, four rolling shelves, five rolling carts, a flatbed cart and a permanent shelving unit. Tables will be set up along the hallway and more shelves are planned to be added in the future.
A mobile pantry will come to West Elementary from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21. Families will be able to learn more about the Spartan Food Pantry and register for it at the event. No verification is needed and the mobile pantry is open to everyone.
To further help its visitors, the food pantry will offer free child care while parents pick up food. Mathews said that in the future, the pantry hopes to add a bulletin board with local job openings and to host a holiday toy drive.
Unlike other types of food pantries, families visiting the Spartan Food Pantry will allow its visitors choice and selection, much like shopping at a grocery store.
“Everything is their choice, they can choose how much they need for the two weeks until the next pantry,” Mathews said.
“We will have bread, fresh produce, milk and frozen meats. We will choose what food items to order from the Northern Illinois Food Bank, tailoring to our families and their tastes.”
Crawford said that with the food pantry starting in less than a month, she has been trying to get the word out as much as possible.
“We are still looking for volunteers and people can give monetary donations or nonperishable food items,” Crawford said. “I think we’ve been most excited about the outpouring of kindness from the community. Groups, organizations, sports teams, even our school board, have already signed up to volunteer and help out. We want everyone to know that the food pantry is here because we want to help as many people as we can.”
Volunteers ages 8 and older can help stock the food pantry during nonhours. Only volunteers age 18 and older can work during pantry hours.
“Our district’s mission this year is “#Empowering2Succeed,” Crawford said. “The Spartan Food Pantry is a way to carry out that mission so that our students can be successful not only in education and learning, but also throughout their life.”
For information about the Spartan Food Pantry or to volunteer or donate, call 815-899-8199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.