Two area high schools are setting up facilities to allow students to obtain food and health supplies at no cost.

School officials in Whitehall and South Glens Falls are pursuing the idea, though both schools are avoiding the use of the phrase “food pantry” because of its stigma.

“We are going to call it ‘The Country Cupboard’ and it will have a separate entrance so it is not that visible,” said Deb Mackey, food services director at Whitehall schools, who helped develop the idea along with her staff.

“It’s a marvelous program,” said Whitehall Superintendent Patrick Dee. “Deb Mackey is a heck of a lady and she and her staff came up with this idea. I think it’s just spectacular.”

Mackey, who is new to Whitehall, said she and her staff had heard students telling them that they did not have enough food, especially on the weekends, and decided to pursue the program.

Community effort

In South Glens Falls, the outreach is a combined effort of a high school club and the Moreau Community Center.

In both cases, the focus is on high school students.

Many school districts, including Whitehall and South Glens Falls, have backpack programs for younger students in the lower grades on weekends and holidays, and those do include food for the whole family.

But there has been no specific focus on the high schools in the backpack programs.

At South Glens Falls, Michelle Smallwood, who coordinates a class and a club called Reconnecting Youth for the Prevention Council, started running a drug and alcohol prevention class.

“Mrs. Smallwood and her club have shown a tremendous amount of initiative and compassion in thinking of our students who are struggling to have basic needs met,” South High Principal Peter Mody said of the Weekend Bridge Food Pantry, which is located in the office area of the school. “This is part of the South Glens Falls culture — to act directly in support of others who are in need.”

The Reconnecting Youth class has been running at South High for 14 years, and this is Smallwood’s first year as its teacher. One of the first things she did was organize a club to follow up on issues discussed in the class, which focuses on self-esteem and helping the community.

Sophomore Danka Henderson and freshman Nick Matrazzo are co-presidents, and other members include freshman Dylan Greco and senior Hayley Bills.

“At the beginning of the year, we were brainstorming ideas and a food pantry was one of the first ideas,” Matrazzo said.

The program will start at the high school and then expand to the middle school. South Glens Falls elementary schools already have weekend backpack programs.

“I thought it was awesome that everyone was so willing to help the community,” Henderson said.

Bills agreed.

“It really has shown me that we are South Glens Falls and it brings out the caring in South Glens Falls in more ways,” she said.

Hannaford supermarkets has already donated 30 food boxes, and Smallwood said the school is looking for more partners.

“We want to be building partnerships,” Smallwood said. “It’s really important for our students to be doing that. We definitely want to build it up and be able to maintain the pantry.”

At SUNY Adirondack, Yasmin Lopez, director of SUNY Adirondack’s Community Hub, saw a need as well. At the end of October, the college opened its Community Food Source in the Student Center.

The college’s Food Source is open to any students and there is no charge.

You can read Bill Toscano’s blog at poststar.com/blogs or his updates on Twitter, @billtoscano_ps.

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