Salem High School launches student food pantry

‘There are hungry families in Salem'

SALEM, Va. – Local students are lending a helping hand to feed their fellow classmates.

On Monday, Salem High School officially launched its Salem Bread Food Pantry. The student- and teacher-led pantry provides meals to high school students and their families every weekend.

The pantry has been up-and-running for about a month. Students pack bags every Friday with enough food to last a family of four the entire weekend. Then, the meal kits are distributed anonymously.

“A lot of kids, high school students, they don’t want anybody to know that they’re hungry. They won’t reach out and tell somebody. They’d rather just sit back and watch everybody else eat and not say anything," said Sharon Jennings, the food pantry site coordinator and a special education teacher at the high school.

Students, like Ayanna Reddicks, who transferred to Salem High School from Roanoke City, said she didn’t expect her new classmates would face the same problems as her old school.s

“There’s a lot of kids in our community who don’t have food, whether you think it or not,” Reddicks said.

Jennings said that hunger is an issue that’s often overlooked in Salem.

“Within high school, there is a number of students that are on free and reduced lunch," Jennings said.

The Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries’ Healthy Community Action Team received a $59,450 grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth to start food pantries at Andrew Lewis Middle School and Salem High School. The ministries also run a summer feeding program and handed out just under 13,000 free meals to kids in the city over the summer.

“To be able to help with their basic needs is just really, really a blessing," said Cindy Neathawk, the chairman of the ministries.

Salem High School special education students pack the meal kits and accounting students handle the inventory. So far, the pantry serves nine families. Jennings and Reddicks hope to stock the shelves and fill the freezers to serve many more families for years to come and end the stigma surrounding hunger.

“If you’re hungry, it’s OK," Jennings said. "As far as Salem, we’re just like everybody else. There are hungry families in Salem.”

“It’s, you know, important to keep the mindset that everybody’s the same, no matter where they live,” Reddicks said.

The pantry is collecting donations of perishable and nonperishable food items, as well as Thanksgiving meal ingredients. To donate, contact Salem High School or Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries.

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