When students used to approach agriculture teacher Kristina Williams saying they were hungry and didn’t have enough food at home, she’d offer them her own lunch. Now she doesn’t have to, thanks to student-assisted efforts to open a discreet food pantry at Baraboo High School.
“I love my kids and I would give them the shirt off my back,” Williams said. “And I’m happy to give away my lunch, but it’s helpful now that I can give to more students and as a community we’re able to provide this opportunity for our students, and that’s awesome.”
After community member Amy Anderson suggested the idea to Principal Glenn Bildsten, he solicited school clubs for anyone who was interested, and Williams’ FFA students “latched on right away,” she said. Members of FFA and the Future Business Leaders of America held a food drive, collecting enough to get the pantry running by the end of November, according to FBLA adviser Greg Manson.
FFA students, including sophomore Hannah Wieczorek, keep the shelves of a storage room stocked with canned fruits and vegetables, soups, macaroni and cheese and other non-perishable, easy meals, as well as basic hygiene products. On Wednesdays, they fill bags with items requested by anonymous students. On average, they spend an hour each week volunteering for the pantry.
Wieczorek said before working on this project, she never realized how many of her peers lack proper sustenance at home.
“They come to school and this is the only food that they get,” she said. “So it really opened up my eyes and helped me to see all the students that need help in our own community.”
About 47 percent of Baraboo students qualified for free or reduced-price meals this school year, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Williams estimated the food pantry has served more than 50 students so far.
“It’s definitely proven itself to be a high need here, and so we’ll be here as long as the students are utilizing it,” Williams said.
Every week, students can fill out a request form either online or with hard copies available at the student services office and Williams and Manson’s classrooms. Williams numbers each form and removes the names, so volunteers don’t know for whom they’re packing food.
On Fridays, Williams — as one of the only two people who know the identities of recipients — deposits the bags in students’ lockers. To maintain their anonymity, she also picks up the previous week’s empty bags from recipients’ lockers.
Every student who requests food gets some, she said, although they might not get every item they list. Manson noted they can request extra food for siblings as well.
Organizers are working on partnering with local grocery stores and Second Harvest Foodbank, aiming to make the pantry self-sustaining, Manson said. Currently, donations come from area churches, stores and individual community members.
A new agriculture class, Wisconsin Fish & Aquaculture, starting this fall should also help, Williams said. It will produce lettuce and other vegetables for use in the school cafeteria, and any extra produce will be donated to the food pantry once organizers can figure out how to store refrigerated food.
“We’re kind of starting ground up, and as more students are utilizing it, we’ll move in that direction,” Williams said.