When children go to school, their job is to learn, but it’s hard for students to focus in the classroom and reach their full potential when hunger strikes.
Roughly 1 in 5 children statewide experience food insecurity and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, according to Feeding Florida. It’s a problem the Community Partnership Schools model aims to alleviate through one of its four pillars — an emphasis on health and wellness services.
The model was co-founded in 2010 at Evans High School in Orlando by the Children’s Home Society of Florida, Orange County Public Schools and UCF. Through collaboration with other community partners, nine UCF-certified Community Partnership Schools across the state provide services that help meet students’ social-emotional, physical and academic needs so they can be successful in the classroom. That includes addressing food insecurity through the availability of food pantries and snack cabinets.
“We can’t expect students to be successful in the classroom if their basic needs aren’t being met.”
“We can’t expect students to be successful in the classroom if their basic needs aren’t being met,” says Amy Ellis ’19EdD, director of the UCF Center for Community Schools, which supports Community Partnership Schools. “If a student is consumed with concern over when or where their next meal is going to be, they can’t concentrate in class. We also know good nutrition has a lot to do with how well students function and pay attention. If we are about the success of students, we must address those areas, too.”
While many school districts offer free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, Ellis says it’s important to provide a support system for food insecurity to fill the gaps. That’s where the food pantries, snack cabinets and other nutritional resources come into play.
At Evans High School, the pantry is called the Trojan Market. Kelly Astro ’96, Evans Community Partnership School director, says it is partially modeled after UCF’s Knights Helping Knights Pantry. Evans students have access to food, clothing, school supplies and toiletries through the market, which is also open during the summer if necessary. The market has seen more than 2,400 visits so far this year, Astro says.
Just like with Knights Pantry, the Trojan Market has a team of student volunteers who rotate shifts on a weekly basis. They assist with ordering food through Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and ensuring items are accessible to students. And although Evans High School has a good partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank, Astro says there is always a need for food, and donations are welcomed and accepted year-round.
The market has also undergone a few upgrades this year, including a relocation to the main administration building and the addition of a refrigerator to offer cold and fresh grocery items to students starting this fall.
“Our principal felt so strongly about making this accessible to students that he welcomed the idea with open arms to move our Trojan Market so it’s part of our Community Partnership School hub,” Astro says. “We’re also looking for someone who can help us create a web-based ordering system — kind of like Instacart — so we can kick that off next year, too.”
“If we can alleviate any stress on students caused by food insecurity by offering food and cooking classes, support for healthy living and offering preventative health education, we will do that.”
Additionally, there are plans to offer cooking classes for students and families with an emphasis on good nutrition and budget-friendly meals.
“If we can alleviate any stress on students caused by food insecurity by offering food and cooking classes, support for healthy living and offering preventative health education, we will do that,” Astro says.