Hundreds of families line up at Columbus East and Columbus North high schools several times a year to receive free groceries through a partnership between the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Gleaners Food Bank.
In 2013, Gleaners approached the corporation about setting up food pantries in its local high schools for students and families who may need assistance. For the last six years, teachers from both high schools have coordinated distribution days at the Columbus East Pantry and Bull Dog Pantry multiple times throughout the school year.
“Food insecurity is evident in our community,” said Greg Lewis, a social studies teacher at Columbus East and coordinator of the school’s pantry. “We know there is a body of students who could use it.”
During the 2018-19 school year, 44.3% of students enrolled in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. received free or reduced lunch. Since 2013, the Columbus East Pantry alone has served 6,298 families.
Gleaners provides both schools with a $1,000 monthly allocation to order food through its Agency Express management system. The schools receive a shipment of orders on the Wednesday before the pantry opens.
Both schools also accept donations and raise funds to purchase items in bulk on their own from stores including ALDI and Sam’s Club. Lewis and others built a garden at Columbus East to grow fresh vegetables for pantry users, too.
The Columbus East Pantry is open to Columbus East students at 2:30 p.m. and to the public from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Friday of every month. The Bull Dog Pantry at Columbus North is open to Columbus North students at 2:30 p.m. and to the public from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Friday of every month — both with the exception of school breaks and closings.
Families who use the pantries must list the number of people in their family by age group and the number of veterans, unlike other food pantries that require a proof of residency or family size.
At Columbus East, every family, regardless of size, receives 20 points to shop in the pantry. Of the 20 points, five points can be used for meat — either from the freezer or canned tuna or chicken — and two points can come from snacks.
Every item in the pantry has a point value, with the majority of items such as canned, boxed or bagged items being one point each. The pantry freezer also hosts several hundred pounds of all kinds of meat marked with a point value based on one point per pound.
Lewis said the pantry also frequently has items for no points such as perishables including bread, fresh fruits and veggies, and items that they are trying to move out of their inventory.
The clients select food items from the shelves, fridge or freezer, put it on one of five stationary carts in the center of the room assigned to them where they’re assisted by a volunteer who helps them keep track of their points and bag their food.
“From an education standpoint, for a kid who does not have enough food, learning may not be their highest priority,” Lewis said. “We know we can help bridge that gap for families that don’t have enough food.”
At Columbus North’s Bull Dog Pantry, points vary based on the size of the family. Families of one to two individuals receive 20 points; three to four receive 25 points and five to six receive 30 points.
Teacher and pantry coordinator Tonya Cruser said almost all items in the Bull Dog Pantry are one point each with the exception of meat and snacks which run at two points.
Cruser said the Bull Dog Pantry currently has several baby items available, donated by DOREL, including car seats, high chairs and pack ‘n’ plays, while supplies last.
Both Lewis and Cruser said students rarely take advantage of the pantry, and they attribute that to the stigma that often surrounds food pantries.
“Kids are so afraid,” Cruser said. “They’re so afraid that other kids will see them and find out they’re using the pantry. I don’t want that to happen.”
Neither pantry allows student volunteers to eliminate that fear for students, but both teachers said they haven’t found a solution to the stigma.
Cruser said she’s thought about offering a delivery program for students and parents to arrange for groceries to be delivered.
“I don’t want them to be fearful of the embarrassment of being seen,” Cruser said. “I can’t stand the thought of a family going without food because of that fear.”
When she went to school, Cruser said there was never anything like a food pantry that existed for students, but she can still remember people who would’ve benefited from it.
“The people who are using it now, it’s helping them tremendously,” Cruser said. “We see a lot of those people week after week, and I’m sure they go to East, too. If we weren’t here, I don’t know what those people would be doing.”
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The Columbus East Pantry and Bull Dog Pantry accept both monetary and physical donations, including food, toiletries and other household items that a family may need.
To donate to the Columbus East Pantry, contact Greg Lewis at [email protected] or drop off donations at the Columbus East front office.
To donate to the Bull Dog Pantry, visit bulldogpantry.com/donate or drop off donations at the Columbus North front office.
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Both pantries accept community volunteers.
To volunteer at the Columbus East Pantry, contact Greg Lewis at [email protected].
To volunteer at the Bull Dog Pantry, visit bulldogpantry.com/volunteer or contact Tonya Cruser at [email protected].
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The Columbus East Pantry is located at Columbus East High School, 230 S. Marr Road. Patrons can enter at Door No. 31 near the tennis courts.
Columbus East students can visit the pantry beginning at 2:30 p.m. Doors open to the public at 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m.
The Columbus East Pantry is open:
April 9 (Thursday)
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The Bull Dog Pantry is located at Columbus North High School, 1400 25th St. Patrons can enter in the main entrance of the school.
Columbus North students can visit the pantry beginning at 3 p.m. Doors open to the public at 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m.
The Bull Dog Pantry is open: