MEDWAY – Students participating in free lunch programs at school don’t necessarily get a weekend break from hunger. In Medway, something is being done about it. School officials recently announced plans to open a pantry next month inside Burke-Memorial Elementary School, which houses grades 2-4. The pantry, which is being created in partnership with the YMCA and the Medway Village Church Food Pantry, will prepare book bags containing at least two food items for kids to take home on Friday afternoons for the weekend."Anytime you’re hungry, it’s hard to focus on anything aside from feeding that primal need,” said Ryan Sherman, director of wellness for Medway Public Schools. “If we can fill that essential need, then (students) can focus more on learning.” The pantry would serve the approximately 70 students at Burke-Memorial who are eligible for the free school lunch program. Officials see the concept as a prototype; should it work well, additional pantries could be placed in other Medway schools. Sherman said partnering with the YMCA and the church pantry was “crucial” to the creation of the school pantry, which will supply simple foods that students can eat on their own: Chef Boyardee products and applesauce, as well as meals they can prepare with an adult, such as a pasta dinner. Sherman said the inspiration was triggered after the school nurse noticed an influx of students coming through the office hungry and looking for breakfast on Mondays. While many of those students were eligible for free lunches or breakfasts at school during the week, Sherman said the district was unsure “how, or if, (students) were getting all the food they need over the weekend.” Studies show that missing meals and being hungry negatively impacts how students perform and behave in school. According to studies published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” “American Journal of Pediatrics” and the “Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,” hungry children have lower math scores, are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late or miss school entirely. The food pantry program is supported by a $1,600 grant “We’re very fortunate to have received this grant funding to get (the program) off the ground,” said Susan Dietrich, director of the Medway Village Church Food Pantry, and also vice chairwoman of the Medway School Committee. “We always see families with children, so I’m very conscious of those additional needs,” she said. “We want all of our students to feel safe and healthy and ready to learn; one of the building blocks of that is not being hungry,” said Sherman. “This is an easy way for us to make sure that basic need is met.” Sherman said discretion is important to protect students. “All kids want to feel part of the group and want to feel normal, and we want to protect that,” he said. Sherman said that while the percentage of needy families is low in many suburbs − about 10 percent − there has been a slight increase in that number in Medway, growing from 12 percent to 17 percent in the last three years, said Sherman. According to the Town of Medway website, the average household income is $109,865, as of 2016, but 11 percent of households in the town earn less than $25,000. The district is aiming to begin the program next month, and is looking for help preparing backpacks alongside volunteers from the Medway Village Church Food Pantry. Email Sherman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The optional program will start by serving a group of the first 15 students who sign up. Those interested in donating food items can do so by leaving bags marked “Food Pantry” at the church office of Medway Village Church, 170 Village St.