NEW LONDON - When New London School District superintendent Chad Wahls inquired about initiating “Operation Backpack” in the district, he learned that the program is considered outdated and many school districts are now working to start their own food pantry to aid the socioeconomically challenged.
On Wednesday, the school district ordered close to two tons of food for the monthly delivery to people in the community who had registered. Wahls said much of the 3,600 pounds of food the district received for its first order was dried materials that can be shelved for a period of time. Also, there was a portion that was cold. The school district has received a donated freezer to assist with the project. The freezer was filled to capacity when the order arrived. On Wednesday, after delivery, the freezer was almost empty, with only a few cased sausage links.
“We know when students spend the majority of time at the school and their needs are high because parents are sometimes working multiple jobs, we are sort of their caregiver for their day and week,” Wahls said. “It is just a way we thought we could expand our support, especially over weekends or holidays or sometimes when food is more sparce.”
Wahls commented the program would continue through the summer. In the district, about 38 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
The initiative began about six months ago with the question of how the district could continue to support its students. In a previous district Wahls had worked at, the students were offered “Operation Backpack,” which gave food to students in a backpack weekly. As the district looked into that, the Southeast Iowa Food Bank in Ottumwa had encouraged the beginning of a food pantry. The workers at the food bank did not have to convince Wahls very much that this is what he should implement in the district.
Through the HUSH program, the pantry gets such items as frozen beef and lamb chops. There are also cold products such as milk and butter.
There are two portions of the food pantry, Wahls explained. One side is USDA, which is the food given to families. The other side is at the discretion of teachers if they see a student who they feel could use a snack.
Prior to the program, the district had provided such things as Thanksgiving meals for people in the community. Usually about 20 families in the district were given meals for Thanksgiving. Wahls said these dinners were used to generate the amount of food the district requested.
“We expect and hope it will grow,” Wahls said. “We will continue to reach out to families and just provide them the opportunity to partake in it.”
For more information on the food pantry, contact the school district at 319-367-0512.