Salem High opens food pantry to assist students in need

Submitted photo
MAIN – Garry Lautenschlager and Pastor David Drebes with College Lutheran Church present a check to the Salem High Food Pantry represented by Sharon Jennings, School Site Coordinator and Principal Scott Habeeb.


Shawn Nowlin


Thanks in part to Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries (SAEM) members Garry Lautenschlarger and Tonya Pickett submitting a grant to the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY), Salem High was able to officially open a school food pantry on November 18. With said grant, commercial shelving, a deep freezer, two refrigerators and $750 worth of food was able to be purchased.

The purpose of Monday’s gathering at Salem High was for community leaders, school staff, administrators and local politicians to convene to address the problem of hunger.

“SAEM has been involved in feeding programs in seven local elementary schools since 2008 but felt we needed to find a different model to reach middle and high school students who are more concerned about being different and admitting to their peers that they do not have enough to eat,” Lautenschlarger said.

Over 30 percent of Salem High students qualified for free or reduced lunch last year. That equates to approximately 390 pupils. The newly acquired food pantry will be stocked with non-perishable, fresh and pre-packaged recipe kits. Teenagers will be able to select from the following food groups: protein, vegetables, fruits, grains, soups and snacks.

As Chair of Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries, Cindy Neathawk oversees the Board, quarterly meetings and general business regarding the organization.

“Healthy food can be more expensive and further out of reach to children whose parents are struggling financially.  This is important because healthy food promotes wellness and helps students be better able to learn,” she said. “Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth is focused on helping reduce childhood obesity which can happen when students have options in their choice of food and are given ideas on how to prepare it.”

Salem High Site Coordinator Sharon Jennings, who is in charge of the day to day operations of the food pantry, also understands that a student cannot maximize their learning potential if they are hungry. As she put it, “food falls under the category of Physiological in Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs.  We are doing everything that we can to eliminate this need.”

Once SAEM was notified of the VFHY grant, the Healthy Communities Action Team (HCAT) was created to coordinate efforts, provide leadership and develop partnerships for the school-based food pantries. The HCAT Team is comprised of community professionals representing education, healthcare, business, community outreach and local churches.

“A food pantry fits very well into our division’s mission to ‘Love, Engage, and Inspire’ the young people of our community. We look forward to growing in our capacity to meet this important need for our students,” Principal Scott Habeeb said.

In addition to monetary donations, the following items are being collected for the holidays: ham or turkey, boxed stuffing, boxed macaroni and cheese, potatoes, rolls, canned yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies.

VFHY, which receives no taxpayer funds and is financed by an 8.5 percent share of Virginia’s annual payments from the Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco manufacturers, was established in 1999 by the Virginia General Assembly. The grant will run through June 2020.


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