Fresh food pantries in schools combat food insecurity

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — 10News’ 2023 Month of Million Meals campaign is officially underway! Each year, our editorial team partners with Feeding San Diego for this important fundraising initiative.

Schools are among the pillars of the community benefiting from the drive. Of course, feeding the mind is mission #1 for educators, but filling stomachs is a major key to nourishing the brain.

Hoover High School in City Heights is one of about 40 schools in the district with a pantry that offers fresh produce and other foods to those on campus.

10News reporter Ryan Hill went to the school to see the closet process. When the tarp comes off a new shipment, it means the Hoover Market is open, ready to feed students.

Carissa Casares, senior communications manager for Feeding San Diego, says the School Pantry program provides fresh and healthy produce and other food items twice a month to those in need on campuses.

Christiana Riego De Dios, Hoover High schools teacher coach, says it’s clear the pantry is helping families.

“It brings joy to see our students and our families actually get maybe some of the food they really need,” says Riego De Dios.

“We deliver food to where people need it. So we remove barriers to access,” says Casares.

This program is personal to Hoover High senior April Varela.

“The whole point of why I wanted to be involved is to build resilience in the community and help those who need it or just stressed parents because I have a mother who just raised me so I understand how it feels,” says Varela.

Jason Babineau, senior director of community schools for the San Diego Unified School District, says food, especially healthy food, has been a necessity for the Hoover High community.

“The fact that they are able to take ownership of what they put into their bodies… The fact that they are able to bring that food home to their families is something that is a necessity and often taken for granted a given,” says Babineau.

“The whole point of this program is to get rid of the stereotype of getting resources,” says Varela.

Getting rid of these stereotypes surrounding the lending hand is important to fellow student Mahal Glenn.

“We are here and we understand that there are people in need of food. You don’t have to feel judged or anything. We’d rather have you here for food than to starve,” says Glenn, who is also a senior at Hoover High.

Food not only nourishes the body but also the mind.

Students in the Culinary Arts program, like Brian Aguilera, went to the market as part of their class; they will pick up ingredients from Hoover Market and learn how to make recipes with them.

“It’s pretty cool because we get to go out and see the people who support us and we get to see new ingredients,” said Brian Aguilera, another Hoover High student. “Every time we go there’s always something new. And I’m happy we’re coming back and making magic out of it.”

The magic of the market is felt by all Hoover Cardinals.

“There’s someone looking out for us, and it’s good to be in a community like that,” says Aguilera.

Feeding San Diego says school pantries like the Hoover Market are open to community access as well.

“For our community to really be a part of this is incredibly important. They are part of our students’ experience,” says Babineau.

“This whole program helped me open my eyes more. And it feels good to help those who really need it,” says Varela.

Feeding San Diego says it is working to expand this key program.

“And we do have a waiting list. We have more schools that want to do that, but it’s not possible right now,” says Casares. “Nonprofits are on the road after the pandemic. Funding was significantly higher. Now the funding has really gone down dramatically.”

“We hope that organizations like Feeding San Diego continue to receive the support they need to be able to provide this access for our students,” says Babineau.

San Diego County is home to more than 80,000 children who are at risk of hunger.

You can help San Diego students focus on their studies instead of where their next meal is coming from with our One Million Meal Month campaign.

Follow this link to donate today.

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