Dubuque school counselor sets up food pantry to address need in school community

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 10:13 PM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Jennifer Erickson has been the school counselor at Alta Vista, a school that gives a different option to those needing something other than the traditional academic setting, for two years. She said students would come to her with needs outside of school, including food.

“For me, as soon as the first student comes to me and says, ‘I am living on my own, I do not have food, I do not have food stamps’, that is when I start the process,” Erickson explained.

Erickson would then make referrals to community resources and would help students fill out applications with the Department of Human Services, but noticed there was a catch.

“A lot of times there is at least a two-week gap before they can get food,” Erickson said. “So I started then trying to figure out ways that we could get food to the students and their families.”

And that is how Alta Vista’s very own food pantry was born.

“It has been a fantastic benefit because, even if they have some food, they might not be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables, meats,” she mentioned.

Erickson said she has really noticed just how big the need is since she opened the pantry. During its first three months, the pantry served 358 people, but just during April 2021, it served 384 individuals.

The pantry came together with the help of the St. Stephen’s Food Bank in Dubuque, a branch of the River Bend Food Bank. Kathy Hutton, the site manager at St. Stephen’s, said school food pantries are becoming much more common.

“Across the nation, we have always done the backpacks and, all of a sudden, everybody realized that it was not just the children, it is the whole family that is suffering,” Hutton said. “So then, the school pantries came into play because then that way, not only do the kids get their backpacks for the weekend, but the whole family has food to go home during the week when they need it to supplement.”

Hutton added one of their main priorities is not only focusing on helping families secure food, but to help them secure healthy food.

“We are trying to get them their really fresh good produce, the proteins with the meats because we know that those are the two things that are so expensive for these poor families to try and afford out in the grocery store,” she said.

That is why Erickson says her job is not just about making sure kids are well mentally, but physically too.

“It is such a primal need to be cared for and feel safe and not be hungry, so for me, it is making sure that their basic needs are met so that then they can learn,” Erickson said. “It is so incredibly rewarding.”

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