GREENSBURG, La. — Students in St. Helena Parish experience poverty and food insecurity at higher rates than both the national and state averages. To help ensure that students and their families have reliable access to food, the St. Helena Parish School District teamed up with LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to launch the first-ever parish-wide school food pantry in Louisiana.
Pantries will launch at each school in the district Dec. 8 from 4 to 6 p.m. Students and their caregivers are welcome to use the pantry completely free of charge.
“We are working to meet the needs of our learners and their families by providing multitiered system of supports that foster academic success in the classroom,” said Kelli Joseph, superintendent of the St. Helena Parish School District. “We are grateful for our partnership with the LSU AgCenter and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank because they are helping us close those gaps that stifle progress.”
The pantry is an expansion of Lena’s Closet, the school district’s boutique-style closet where students can grab necessities like uniforms and personal hygiene products for free.
“We worked with the school district to design the pantries using a client-choice model and implement nutrition standards, which will help the pantry feel more like a grocery store and ensure healthful options are available,” said Marquetta Anderson, LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities agent in St. Helena Parish. “A huge benefit of the client-choice model is that its flexible structure allows pantries to offer a wide array of products to their clients.”
The AgCenter purchased essentials like coolers, freezers, shelving, signage and insulated bags for the pantries using funds from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention High Obesity Program grant, Anderson said.
According to a survey of more than 160 parents of students, 94% of respondents plan to use the pantry at least once a month. Additionally, 4 out of 5 respondents are interested in volunteering at the pantry, and the most requested products are fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank recognizes the importance of partnering with schools in outlying parishes where there are few resources for students and their caregivers experiencing hunger,” said Mike Manning, president and CEO of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.
“Schools provide a familiar place and a familiar face, which makes seeking help less frightening,” Manning added. “With Lena’s Closet already located at the school, this partnership truly creates a hub of resources for the students and their caregivers.”
For more information about Lena’s Closet Food Pantry or to donate, contact St. Helena Arts and Technology School at 225-222-4364 or St. Helena College and Career Academy at 225-222-4402.