Food Resources On-site

What is it?
(food pantry on site, snack program, after-school/sporting event meals, garden)

  • After assessing the needs of your SBHC community may identify a need for additional food supports for families, beyond connections to federal nutrition programs.  Perhaps there are barriers to using SNAP in your community, such as limited grocery store access or availability of healthy options.
  • In partnership with the school district or other local organizations, it may be feasible and to provide additional food supports to families onsite at the school or SBHC.  These onsite food supports could include a food pantry, distribution of food bags or backpacks, provision of healthy snacks or meals to students or establishing a shared garden.  The advantages of offering onsite food supports are numerous.  In communities where there are transportation challenges, schools are a location that families access frequently.  If co-located food supports are available, this limits the burden of additional trips to access food from other locations which may be difficult to reach.  Food supports offered onsite can also be connector to other services for students.  If a SBHC food pantry is available to all students, this can be a way to engage families in other health services offered by the SBHC.  Offering food support on site can also be done in conjunction with other nutrition wrap around services such as cooking or nutrition classes.
  • Operating a food program at your SBHC or within the school will require additional staff capacity.  The more comprehensive the program, for example a pantry that includes fresh, perishable items, the greater the resource investment needed to manage the program.
How does it work?
  • While providing direct food access to students and families can require more resources, such as funds, space, food, and staff coordination, direct food access can be an essential strategy to address acute food insecurity and fill identified gaps in resources available in your community.  There are different models for operating a food resource onsite, some questions to consider include:  
    – What space is available in the SBHC or school?  Is it possible to store food items onsite for distribution to families?  What types of foods are most needed by families?  Is there capacity for storage of shelf stable and perishable items?  
    How will be pantry be managed?  Who will monitor inventory of food items and allow access to the space for students and families?  Will the pantry be open at certain hours or any time there is a need identified?   What partners in the community can support stocking the pantry with food items?  Are there partners in the community, such as a food bank, that may bring a mobile food option to your school or SBHC?   
    – What are the space considerations for a garden onsite?  What additional tools and expertise is needed for the planning and upkeep?  Who will be responsible for long term maintenance, particularly when school is out of session?  How will garden be integrated into nutrition education or food security efforts?   
    – See resources below for additional tips and considerations when planning a food pantry or garden onsite.   
  • An additional consideration when implementing a food resource intervention onsite is how that resource will connect to your SBHC.  Many SBHC’s in this project established interventions available to the entire school population.  In some instances, the school population was small and this approach provided broad reach.  However, identifying a connection back to the SBHC and addressing food insecurity as a part of health services for the students may be critical to sustainability of these programs. 
  • Some of the SBHCs involved in this project identified the need to establish a food pantry on-site where students or families could discretely access food to take home.  These pantries ranged in size and capacity, some offering pre-boxed shelf-stable items, while others included produce and refrigerated items. Others created unique food programs to fill specific needs, like healthy snacks or meals available to students and families outside of school hours or gardens to improve access to fresh produce and nutrition education.  

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan established a food pantry onsite at two rural schools in northern Michigan. Through partnerships with other local community organizations, the pantries are stocked regularly and serve approximately 80 students/week. Along with the food pantries, staff held several cooking classes for students and families to demonstrate various ways the ingredients could be turned into nutritious meals. Students responded positively to the interactive experience. The health department has also been able to implement a successful hot meal program that offers healthy meals to students attending afterschool events.

In Michigan’s upper peninsula, the LMAS District Health Department has established a shared pantry which provides healthy snacks to students and a stored pantry, which are available to students to take home.

The Little Rock School District has also developed a food pantry program operated by their health center. Students identified at the clinic are eligible to take home bags of healthy food. The recipients could be selected via self-identification or through the “Health Needs Screener” administered by the SBHC nurse and mental health providers. Students have provided great feedback about the new program.