Jacqueline Brewster wants to make sure none of her students or their families go hungry.
“You wouldn’t think food would make such a big difference, and it does,” Brewster said.
Brewster, who arrived at New Horizons High School as a teen parenting instructor about five years ago, helped students start a small food pantry at the school. They relied on staff and community donations to stock up on their supplies.
The students took complete ownership of the operation. They stock and maintain the shelves, and clean them.
“They’re free to go in, take their food and leave,” Brewster said. They know it’s available.”
On June 7, Second Harvest in Pasco “adopted” New Horizon’s pantry. The organization now donates about 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of food to the high school twice a month.
About 12.7 percent of U.S. households struggled with food insecurity in 2015, according to the federal Department of Agriculture. Local programs such as Second Harvest help address hunger through community donations.
Jean Tucker, development manager at Second Harvest in Pasco, said the timing was right this year to help New Horizons with its pantry. She knew the need for children and their families was there.
“We just joined together,” Tucker said. “It’s very rewarding and speaks to the partnerships in the community.”
Second Harvest plans to expand to other schools in the Tri-Cities. Right now, they’re looking to see what models work best.
Each student at New Horizon, which has about 270 enrolled, gets involved with the program or at least knows about the pantry. Anyone can take advantage of the food bank anytime during normal school hours. And if they need anything on weekends, they can send text notices to teachers.
They stock non-perishable canned items, boxed dinners — like macaroni and cheese — and crackers. They also have fresh produce and dairy products stored in a refrigerator.
Flor Tovar, a senior at New Horizons, said her family has struggled with food insecurity in the past. She first visited the pantry last year when she was unable to get breakfast, and brings home some food.
She has a 7-month-old son, in addition to brothers and sisters she helps look after.
“Their smiles just light up,” Tovar said. “I like seeing the reactions.”
Chelsea Duarte, another senior, said the pantry means a lot to her and her family, as well as other students who miss meals.
“It is hard to focus, because you’re hungry,” Duarte said.
Food insecurity can be quite traumatic for young students, said Michelle Smith, a teacher at New Horizons who also helps with the pantry.
“You can’t focus on any kind of learning (if you’re hungry),” Smith said.
If a student tells Smith that they need to grab a bite, she’ll let them go. Smith, Brewster and all the teachers and staff at the school realize how important it is that the students know when their next meal will be.
Brewster makes her own policy on the pantry clear.
“If you need it, take it,” she said.
For more information on Second Harvest, go to 2-harvest.org.