The impact of hunger in the classroom is remarkable. Children who haven’t eaten can’t concentrate and become highly emotional. As a result, their learning is disrupted and the whole class is affected.
When we became aware that some children were coming into school hungry every day, the PTA at Elm Grove School in Brighton made it our mission to help. We thought that if we could create a PTA Pantry stocked with food and household essentials, families would have access to the food they needed. It would enable them to stretch their finances further and help all the children get the most from their education.
But we were worried that the stigma associated with taking free food would stop families from using the Pantry. To help overcome this, we decided to open the Pantry to everyone regardless of income. We’d promote the environmental message by intercepting food destined to be thrown away and rehouse our free recycled school uniform library in the Pantry so people could take clothing as well as food.
We needed a space families could use without entering the school. Working with the school management team, we settled on an underused area next to the bike shed. We asked if anyone had the skills or expertise to help us build the Pantry and a parent put us in touch with local company Hand Made Garden Rooms, who donated their time for free. The PTA covered the cost of the materials, and the wooden building was completed in just two weeks. We initially stocked it with donations from the Harvest Festival and this provided a lifeline to some families over the half-term break. In addition to specific fundraising to stock the Pantry, the PTA reached out to local shops, businesses, supermarkets and cafés to intercept food waste. Local bakery The Flour Pot now donate all their leftover bread, which our families love.
Our new grants officer Sarah secured funds from Feeding Britain, a charity aiming to eliminate hunger in the UK. The money had to be used to feed families over the school holidays, so we curated recipe cards and kits that the children could take home.
The Pantry’s motto is ‘take what you need; give what you can’. Each week, we use the school WhatsApp groups to request donations of food and household items. We promote our Local Giving link so families with something to spare can make a financial donation, to top up the essentials. The school gave the proceeds of the Christmas concert collections too, raising £500.
The Pantry is open daily at drop-off and pick-up. No one knows whether parents and carers are donating or taking something for that evening’s meal. The Pantry has become a lifeline to many in our school community – one we’re very proud of.
Becs Kent, chair, Elm Grove Primary School PTA, Brighton, East Sussex (420 pupils)