Nov. 21, 2017
A HELPING HAND — Michelle Jackson runs the food pantry at Clarence Farrington School 61. Jackson is progran coordinator for Connection Pointe Christian Church’s Community Impact Ministry. The church and school have a longstanding partnership, providing services and programs for the school’s students and families throughout the year. Through the food pantry, students and their families are able to eat throughout the week and weekend. Below, Chris Wyatt (far left) picks out needed items to feed her grandchildren, who attend the school. Wyatt said she uses the pantry to supplement her income.
Approaching the entry to Clarence Farrington School 61, the sound of laughter can be heard before the doors even open. More than 100 children inside are enjoying pizza, popcorn, and Minions (lots of them) on a giant movie screen.
It’s Farrington Family Fun Night, and the event lives up to its name. But while students are enjoying the movie, some parents slip down the hall when it’s their turn to visit a small food pantry located inside the school.
The pantry operates every Wednesday from 5 to 7:30 p.m., thanks to the parishioners and dedicated volunteers at Connection Pointe Christian Church.
“We’ve been working with families at Clarence Farrington for about six years,” said Michelle Jackson, program coordinator for the church’s Community Impact Ministry. “We offer parenting classes, budgeting workshops, and help with homework.”
Jackson began seeking food donations after realizing many students couldn’t count on weeknight dinners or weekend meals at home.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15.6 million households with children experienced food insecurity in 2016. Indiana ranks No. 8 of all U.S. states for food insecurity, with 2.6 million households lacking access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.
When food needs become chronic, poor nutrition and stress can turn into long-term health concerns for adults and children … and poor performance in school.
“When kids are worried about food, they’re probably not worrying about their school work, and we just can’t have that,” said Jackson. “We know IPS cares about the whole family, and by opening the food pantry, we’ve taken this burden off the shoulders of the principal and the administration so they can focus on educating children.”
Jona Atkins, principal of Clarence Farrington School 61, is appreciative.
“We have a lot of families in need,” said Atkins. “They love the food pantry and want us to expand it, because it’s positively impacting their children. They’re eating, they’re more focused, and paying better attention in school, because they’re not stressed about food.”
Clarence Farrington’s Parent Involvement Educator Kayla Hickman agrees. “When kids come to school hungry, you know they’re not at their best,” she said. “The pantry has been such a blessing to our families.”
Chris Wyatt heads one of these families. “I work full time, and I’m raising my 5-, 7- and 9-year old grandsons,” she said. “The food pantry helps. It’s nice that they took the initiative to say, ‘Hey we want to help you guys who are struggling.’”
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I am able to work. It’s extremely embarrassing to have to ask for help, but I don’t qualify for food stamps. I do the best I can, but every cent that I make goes to pay my rent and utilities.”
Wyatt now has legal custody of her grandsons, but receives no child support. “This isn’t for me, this is for them,” she said. “My daughter took off (one day) and then brought them (to my house) at 2:30 in the morning. They climbed into bed and said, ‘Grandma, we don’t want to sleep in mommy’s car anymore.’ And I told them they’ll never have to. I bust my tail for these boys every second of every day, because I don’t know what their alternative would be.”
Wyatt said the pantry’s evening hours are important. “When you’ve got parents that are trying to work, not everybody can get to a food pantry that runs from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the third Tuesday of the month,” she said. “On Saturday mornings, you might have 80 other people in line for a food pantry that may or may not run out of stuff. At Farrington, we know that we can walk in on Wednesday night and get two boxes of cereal, four cans of chicken noodle soup, drink boxes … whatever they’ve got on their shelves. That little bit of help to make it through the week is great. It’s a good thing. I also like that they give you assigned times and a helper who asks you what you need.”
According to Jackson, that’s key to her plan.
“Sending families home with groceries is just the beginning,” she said. “Because we are just starting, we are trying to navigate what other resources we can help them with and what other outside assistance they receive such as food stamps or TANF. That will help us determine how often we will let them come, how much food they need, and if they need to transfer and get additional help. For example, do they need to participate in our budgeting classes?”
“It’s just the beginning of a conversation of how we can help and how we can get them linked to better resources,” said Jackson.
Non-perishable items in the pantry are donated by members of the church, including Connection Pointe’s children’s ministry which held a special food drive.
“When I created the list for the food drive, I had to really pay attention to the diversity of the school,” said Jackson. “It’s a melting pot. We try to stock foods that meet the cultural preferences of diverse families, but we also go through a lot of cereal, peanut butter, juice, pasta, and helper meals.”
Jackson hopes the pantry at Clarence Farrington can be a model for other churches that want to partner with the families and schools in their communities.
More than 15 schools in the IPS district offer food pantries or food distribution programs. Parents should contact their school’s Parent Involvement Educator or Community Liaison to find out about food pantry hours and types of assistance at their school.
Those schools include:
- Arsenal Technical High School
- Crispus Attucks High School
- Daniel Webster School 46
- James Russell Lowell School 51
- James Whitcomb Riley School 43
- Northwest High School
- Shortridge High School
- Sidener Academy
- Washington Irving School 14
Parents should contact their school’s Parent Involvement Educator or Community Liaison to find out about food pantry hours and types of assistance at their school. “If they don’t have a food pantry at their school, they should call another school nearby,” said Sandra Sears, IPS Parent Involvement Coordinator. “They will be welcomed with open arms at any IPS school. We are here to help all families and all of our students.”
To donate to the Clarence Farrington Food Pantry, call Michelle Jackson at 317.852.2221, ext. 226, for a list of needed food items.