Senate bill would require schools to create food pantries

Photo courtesy of Second Harvest

Many kids suffer every day from hunger, and by not getting the proper nutrition they need. They need healthy food to properly grow and to be able to function in an educational environment where they can excel. But when you come from a low-income family, sometimes food is hard to come by.

State Senator Gary M. Farmer Jr. introduced SenateBill 300 on Jan. 14. It would authorize school districts to create food pantry programs with non-profit organizations. This would ensure that food is provided at no cost to students under specified circumstances and for school employees to prepare and distribute donated food.

 But not all school administrators — even some of the most compassionate ones — see a need for the state to get involved in feeding students. Leon County Schools Assistant Superintendent Michelle Gayle knows how important the food pantries are for students, but she said she’s frustrated that legislators believe there needs to be a law mandating food pantries.

“There are about 20 schools in Tallahassee that have food pantries already, so why does it need to be considered a law to make it official?” Gayle said. “To be honest, I’m ashamed. You don’t need a law for this, you need a heart.”

Gayle has experience being a principal on the elementary, middle and high school levels and admits that students have come to her and asked for snacks that they could take home to supplement their dinner.

“During my times as principal, I have seen students take part of their lunch and wrap it in a napkin to take home so they can save it for dinner,” Gayle said.

She says it was heartbreaking to witness but she made sure she always had an office full of snacks to provide to whoever was in need. According to Gayle, many teachers tend to worry in the summertime if the students will eat because then students are out of the school system’s control.

According to Rick Minor, a Leon County commissioner and former CEO of Second Harvest of the Big B end, there are about 32,000 youngsters in the eight-county Big Bend area who are food insecure, meaning that they don’t have regular access to healthy nutritious food.

Second Harvest helps the school system in Leon County by supplying students and low-income families with the Peanut Butter and Jelly drive that was created three years ago. Students of all Leon County schools plus 10 charter and private schools can take their donations of PB & J to school and Second Harvest will collect and help donate them to families in need. The drive will start in April.

As of now, SB 300 has not been heard in a committee and has not made any progress from when it was first introduced.