Pawsitive Pantry first of its kind in Sharon schools

Sharon City School District  |  Posted on

The new Pawsitive School Pantry in Sharon Middle High School is introducing a service: food and clothing assistance for older students. That’s a first in Mercer County.

The Pawsitive School Pantry is a collaboration between the Mercer County Food Bank and Sharon School District designed to provide students in grades 7 through 12 who are facing hunger access to healthy, nutritious food five days a week.

“About a year ago I had mentioned we have nothing for these kids,” school nurse Lisa Fox said. “They hit seventh grade and there’s nothing available to them. Food and security needs don’t stop in seventh grade.”

In the elementary schools in Sharon, students have the Backpack Program available to them. Backpacks are filled with food for needy students to take home on the weekends.

Fox said she has students in the upper grades who also need hygiene products and food. She said a lot of those students are taking care of younger siblings as well.

So the school started a pantry and in partnership with the Mercer County Food Bank that goes through the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. For the initial shelf stocking, Students for Charity held a “40 days of giving” food drive in the community to collect donations.

The Pawsitive School Pantry is available any day school is in session. “I tell the kids to come in from 2:45 to 3:15 p.m. after school and bring a reusable bag so they can bring the bag back and refill it,” Fox said.

The bags are filled with shelf-stable food, hygiene products and appropriate clothing that meets the school’s dress code. “That’s where a lot of the kids have a hard time finding stuff,” Fox said. “I tell them, ‘If you need it, and I don’t have it, ask and I’ll find a way to get it.’”

Fox makes a distribution list to order, sends it out on Thursday and the school is charged only the cost of fuel. The school has set up a fund through the Community Foundation as a nonprofit organization.

“We had area church organizations do food drives for us, and word of mouth. That’s how it got started,” Fox said. “Everything initially ran on donations through staff and word of mouth.”

Talks with the Food Bank started last year, and the Pawsitive Food Pantry was born. It’s a pilot program.

“Let’s start it here and see how it goes,” Fox said. “Eventually we’ll look at doing away with the backpack program and make pantries available to all schools in all districts so kids have more choices and it’s available five days a week.”

Rebecca Page, executive director of the Mercer County Food Bank, said the organization is thrilled to partner with Sharon schools to pilot the first school pantry model program to create additional access to nutritious food for children.

“[The] School Pantry provides more access to food for children by being open at the end of each school day so that students can choose items they need for dinner/snacks that night,” Page said. “More than 3,500 children in Mercer County don’t know where their next meal will come from, and the food bank’s goal is to replicate this program across schools in Mercer County to help alleviate this great need.”