An Austin-area food bank wants students to get healthy meals, so it opened a food pantry at a school
The Central Texas Food Bank is launching a new program to establish food pantries in schools and opened its first location on Wednesday at Creedmoor Elementary, a Del Valle Independent School District campus.
“We are super excited to be a flagship and be leading the way on this front because it is such an important program, especially for our community,” Principal TJ Moreno said.
According to Moreno, more than 90% of the students at Creedmoor Elementary are considered economically disadvantaged; 85% are Hispanic. Del Valle ISD Superintendent Annette Tielle pointed out the school is located in a food desert.
“There aren’t grocery stores that are nearby. Healthy choices are not something that are convenient,” Tielle said.
This is a problem that Yaquelin Cornejo knows firsthand. She’s a parent at Creedmoor Elementary and said she has to drive 30 to 40 minutes on a toll road to get to the grocery store. She got choked up while describing the impact the food pantry is going to have.
“I grew up in Creedmoor and this is such a great opportunity for our students, our families that economically may not be able to afford a healthy choice,” she said. “This is amazing.”
The food pantry is set up like a small grocery store — the shelves are packed with options such as canned goods, big bags of almonds and granola bars. Bright green and red apples glint under the fluorescent lights. There’s a fridge packed with vegetables from containers of spinach and bags of diced butternut squash to baby carrots.
Cornejo said she likes that the food pantry simulates the shopping experience as opposed to giving families a box of pre-selected items.
“You get to choose the items that you want to try. You get to choose items that fit your diet needs,” she said.
Cornejo said many families are struggling with inflation and higher food prices.
“But now maybe they’ll say ‘You know what? I can’t afford butternut squash, but I’m going to go ahead and grab some because I want to try butternut squash or chickpeas,’” she said.
The food pantry also has options for people who are vegan or have gluten-free diets.
“It’s not just pasta that’s there. They have lentil pasta, they have whole wheat pasta, they have chickpea pasta,” Tielle said. “Those types of details are very important to our community, they’re very important to our kids — that those options are readily available.”
Del Valle ISD School Board Secretary Matt Worthington echoed this sentiment. He said he grew up in a food insecure household and his family was able to access healthy, affordable foods when they went to a food bank on Sundays.
“The Feeding Futures pantry here not only provides food but also an opportunity for our students to try new things, and that is also one of the most exciting things,” he said. “When I was a kid, I would go to the food bank, and there would be new food for me to try, things that likely I would never experience otherwise.”
Central Texas Food Bank hopes to provide enough food for 30 meals per student each month at Creedmoor Elementary through the pantry, president and CEO Sari Vatske said. The organization also plans to expand this program to other school districts.
“This may be the first school pantry of the Feeding Futures program, but we are gearing up to launch more. We have expanded our research next to Waco, Hays County, Williamson County and ultimately our 21-county service area,” she said.
The food bank will deliver shelf-stable food items and fresh produce to the pantry every two weeks, Vatske said, and H-E-B is helping provide items to this school pantry.
Rachel Cooper, the director of health & food justice at Every Texan, praised the initiative.
“Having a trusted place families can easily access when they might be low on food is an important tool to make sure children and families are food secure,” she said in an email.
Cooper also points out that while school meal programs and the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are vital to fighting hunger — not all families who need support qualify.
“It will take the collaboration of nonprofits, schools, churches and local and state government to fill in the gaps to make sure our kids are fed,” Cooper said. “Opening a school food pantry is a good example of problem-solving and meeting people where they are.”