Hunger Hides in the Classroom
How one school district is filling the meal gap for students
Kaitlin Cantolla can tell when one of her preschool students is hungry. They may be irritable, moody or distracted, or they may just come right out and say it. That’s why Cantolla, who teaches at Edward Neill Elementary in Burnsville, Minn., keeps healthy snacks in her classroom.
“The signs of hunger are pretty obvious in four and five-year-old kids,” she said. “I can usually tell when a student hasn’t had breakfast, either because they tell me or because I notice them scarfing down their lunch in one bite.”
In order to reach families who may need food assistance without singling them out, Cantolla sends flyers home to all students and keeps free and reduced-cost school meal applications on her desk at her parent-teacher conferences.
“If I notice a particular student has come to school hungry more than a few times, I will bring it up to the parents,” Cantolla explains. “I always have food assistance and backpack program flyers handy on my desk and next to my door.”
Of the approximately 350 students enrolled at Edward Neill Elementary, more than 50 percent qualify for free or reduced-cost school meals.
The district works hard to reach these students. Edward Neill, in the ISD-191 school district, is unique in comparison to other elementary schools in that it has its own food pantry. The districtwide Brain Power in a Backpack program supplies food items for students to take home on Fridays to feed them through the weekend.
Social Worker Melissa Stangl, who has worked in a variety of charter and public schools during her career, said there are always families in need and school food pantries help.
“When I started at Edward Neill, we had just received a grant from Second Harvest Heartland to create the pantry and provide a free bag of groceries to each family once a month,” she said. “The goal is to provide healthy, free groceries to ALL our families so they can divert some of the money they would spend on food to other bills and family needs.”
While school districts are making progress, child hunger is a persistent and pervasive problem—not just in ISD-191, but across our region.
Tom Umhoefer is the director of community education for ISD-191.
“There is always need,” Umhoefer said. “The Brainpower in a Backpack program sends food home every weekend throughout the school year to 750 elementary students and middle schoolers, 250 Special Education students, and more than 50 preschool students—that’s 1,000 meals a week to help with hunger across ISD-191 elementary and middle schools.”
Edward Neill Elementary was an early participant in Second Harvest Heartland’s metro area school-based program designed to increase availability of healthy food resources to students and their families. School districts like ISD-191 serve as a model for other districts implementing breakfast, lunch and out-of-school meal programs.
You Can Help Feed A Child
Did you know that one in eight Minnesota children is hungry? You can help ensure that all Minnesota kids have the nourishment they need not just to survive, but to thrive!
Second Harvest Heartland works with more than 1,000 partner food shelves, pantries and meal programs every day to reach the one in 11 Minnesotans who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Learn more about our partnerships and how you can help.