Portland school food pantry grows, goes hi-tech

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PORTLAND — Three years ago, a Lyman Moore Middle School student began a food pantry in the school to address growing food insecurity.

Today, the food pantry is a well-oiled machine that reaches more students and families than ever. It’s expanded beyond a room in the school to an online ordering system students can access anonymously.

Caroline Foster, a social studies teacher at Lyman Moore who is involved with the food pantry, said the program has grown to the point where organizers will be getting a refrigerator and more shelving. Students are also designing a logo to paint on the wall.

The pilot program used to order online reaches about one-sixth of the school, Foster said, but as the program grows more students should be able to access the system. Students simply place anonymous orders with the types and quantity of food and hygiene products they want. The student then asks a teacher to pick up the items and act as a liaison. 

Additionally, Foster said it’s hoped the program will grow into a community resource center, with items like pots and pans available to check out like books from a library, and classes to teach students simple recipes.

“It’s come a long way, (but) we still have big dreams,” Foster said.

Most of the food the pantry gets comes largely through donations, but Foster said Evergreen Credit Union has donated money towards food purchases. Five students are involved each week, but a number of others stop in periodically. The students are learning how to write grants to help expand the pantry as well.

“There’s definitely a significant need here,” Foster said, adding the pantry is “certainly being used.”

Foster said the program has now turned into something sustainable, and it “feels good to do something once you know there is a need.”

Eighth-grade student Chandler Look, who volunteers regularly at the pantry, said it’s a good cause. He’s had friends who used it. His family has used it.

“It’s able to help tons of people in the area,” Look said.

While Look said while it isn’t a good thing that more people need the service, it’s good the help is there for people who need it.

Sixth-grader Sadie Armstrong said she volunteers in the pantry with friends because they know there are people who are hungry or who can’t afford food not just at school or in Portland, but all over the world.

“(I) do this to make a difference,” Armstrong said.

Lyman Moore Principal Ben Donaldson said a number of places do work on food insecurity, but while many focus more on education, he was glad to see Moore students at the center of the issue and being proactive. While teachers or guidance counselors are normally the ones driving efforts of this kind, Donaldson said he was impressed to see Moore students taking the lead.

“This feels more like a community effort,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson also spoke of a desire to turn the pantry into more of a community resource center, and, in turn, of the community’s efforts to help the pantry. An annual walk to collect goods from the neighborhood was rained out this year, but Donaldson said a handful of teachers still went out and braved the elements. Others from the community also dropped off donations.

“Almost everybody wants to step up and help,” Donaldson said. “That’s a good message for our kids to learn.”

Foster said it’s hard to put a number on just how many people use the pantry, as records have only started being kept this year. The program was run kind of “haphazardly” in the first two years, she said, but now it is much more organized to “help families effectively and efficiently.”

“Hopefully we’re making a difference somewhere,” she said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Lyman Moore Middle School students Charlie Lachance, left, Coral Smith and Chandler Look after buying groceries for the Portland school’s food pantry using donated funds from Evergreen Credit Union.

The Lyman Moore Middle School food pantry has expanded since it was started three years ago. Online ordering is now available for students, and there are plans in place to make the pantry into more of a resource center.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.