New pantry serving students and families at Kearns Junior HighNov 30, 2023 01:20PM ● By Tom Haraldsen
Principal Mark Ellermeier and Vice Principal Elvis Fonguh (left) cut the ribbon at the new Kearns Junior High School food pantry. (Tom Haraldsen/City Journals)
Community food pantries in the Salt Lake Valley are few and far between these days, which made the opening of a new food pantry and resource center at Kearns Junior High School a reason to celebrate. Principal Mark Ellermeier and Vice Principal Elvis Fonguh cut the ribbon to open the pantry on Nov. 2.
“I’m excited for this partnership with the Utah Food Bank,” Ellermeier said. “This is a much needed resource for our students and their families.”
Since the pandemic, KJH has seen a substantial increase in the need for food resources, according to Andrea Stringham, community outreach and media relations representative with the Granite School District. She said last year the school distributed close to 4,000 food kits to students, and the current economic environment has increased demand, even as funding dwindled.
“At the end of last year, the Granite Education Foundation didn’t have enough funds to keep any pantry going,” Christine Peasley said, a social worker at KJH. “So we created a partnership with the Utah Food Bank. We estimate about 450 to 500 individuals will be using our pantry each month, and we wanted our students to be able to meet their nutritional needs so they could do better academically.”
The pantry is housed in two relocatable buildings behind the school. It’s set up to be similar to a grocery store and retail store—shelves with canned foods and other items in one relocatable and clothing in the other. It gives students a chance to choose foods and items they would actually use rather than handing them a bag of pre-selected items. Students are permitted to visit the pantry once a month to see what they have and select what they need to feed their families.
The school has over 780 students enrolled, according to Peasley, who added, “we definitely needed more opportunity for kids to get food. We’ve been worried because food resources have been decreasing across the valley and the state.” She said it helps with junior high kids in particular who wouldn’t use a mobile food pantry “due to the stigma that comes with it. They are more comfortable coming into a setting like this with privacy where they can remain anonymous.”
The pantry is open during school hours and after school by appointment, so families can come in together.
“The Utah Food Bank does a lot of amazing kids programming,” said Brett Koslowsky, who works with student programs at the organization. “That includes the Kids Cafe program which we have here at Kearns Junior High. It’s after-school snacks and meals for kids. That just serves a small number of kids, so we reached out to a lot of schools where we felt they could have a need and who had partnered with the Granite Education Foundation which had lost a lot of funding. It’s something where families and students also have an extra resource out of convenience, since they are already at school.”
She said the Utah Food Bank does an initial assessment with all in-school pantries.
“This was the first site visit I went to, and it was amazing to see how many teachers and mothers, social workers and coordinators came to just the organizing meeting itself and how enthusiastic they were,” Koslowsky said. “Then they sent us word that they were going to have a pantry opening, and everything has fallen into place.”
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, a few teachers and students got a sneak preview, touring the pantry before it officially opened later in the week. There were a lot of smiles all around. λ