To fight hunger, volunteers are putting food pantries in Worcester elementary schools

WORCESTER — A different approach is being put in place to make sure children in Worcester have enough to eat.

Food pantries are located right inside some of the elementary schools.

Students fill bags with snacks and protein-rich foods that they can bring home for the weekend.

The idea of putting a pantry inside a school came to Julie McDonald when she was volunteering in one.

“One day, I had a young girl look in my purse and she saw a granola bar and she asked me if she could have it. I was like, wow, this girl needs a granola bar to go home with today.”

Soon after that encounter, McDonald created the Juniper Outreach Foundation.

There are now four pantries in Worcester Elementary schools with another one in the pipeline.

“This pantry here is really for kids to come in and shop for themselves,” explained McDonald. “They can bring the food home. They know whether or not they have a stove to cook, or they can bring a microwaveable meal, or they can bring a snack. Just something to have some sustenance for when they go home.”

This service is definitely needed.

The Elm Park Community School houses one of the pantries. 96% of the students are considered economically disadvantaged. 70% primarily speak a language other than English.

“What Juniper is doing is really just helping our students tremendously and we’re profoundly grateful for it,” said school principal Lucas Donahue.

“We call it WIN- what I need. We do that with academics, like what do you need for reading? What do you need for math? This is no different. You don’t have food at home? OK. That’s where Julie comes in with Juniper. We can do the math, we can do the reading, we can all the other stuff, but we can’t do it for all the food.”

McDonald is making this a community effort.

Consigli Construction is donating labor and materials for the next pantry which will be at the City View Discovery School.

“We were able to come in and really clean this space out, repair some of the walls, put some paint on the walls, carpeting, and shelving, and really make this a safe place for the kids to be able to come in and get whatever is they need,” said Mike Fales.

According to the federal government, 1/8 of children, a total of nine million nationally, are now considered food insecure.

That places those children at greater risk for health concerns like asthma and anemia and for underperforming academically.

“All I know is the need is phenomenal and when these kids come in, to them, it feels like Christmas morning. They’re getting food and on Friday afternoon when they leave school they go home with a bag and they have food for their weekends.”

The kids don’t appear to be the only winners at Juniper Pantries.

“Seeing the smiles on their faces, when they come in, they get a big hug from me and whoever else is here and it’s probably the best part of my day for sure,” added McDonald.

In Worcester, Juniper relies on contributions from area businesses as well as private donations.

McDonald tells Boston 25 that the shelves at the pantries are completely empty by the end of the day every Friday.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW

Comments on this article