Being a teenager is tough enough without having to worry where your next meal is coming from. At Washington High School in Washington, North Carolina, students are able to access an in-house pantry stocked with basic resources, away from the prying eyes of their peers.
In 2015, the high school's student government proposed launching a hygiene closet and food pantry, which received support from former principal Misty Walker. The school partnered with Bright Futures, an organization dedicated to helping schools in the community, to bring the concept to life. Today, the pantry stocks basic items like toiletries, food, clothing, and school supplies provided by local donors.
If students ever wish to use the service, all they need to do is confide in a teacher, counselor, or administrator. They will then be taken by a staff member to one of the school’s pantries where they can shop in a private setting free from stigma. Because the program is anonymous, there are no flyers hung up advertising the pantry. Instead, the administration relies on word of mouth to spread the news.
"We decided to run the pantry simply by word of mouth to eliminate any barriers to students," Washington High School teacher and former student government advisor Laura Thompson tells Mental Floss. "Students nor their families are asked to complete any documentation when using the service."
Washington High School's assistant vice principal Melissa Harris has since taken the lead on the project, and she tells Mental Floss that today it's stronger than ever. "The food pantry is being replenished by partners and student organizations," she says. "Our carpentry kids are also participating in the overhaul and design of the new space. The toiletry closet and clothes closet are in constant use and our partners are assisting in keeping that replenished and it has been a blessing to our students."
Some high schools across the country have followed Washington's lead in recent years. William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware, and Northridge High School in Layton, Utah, are just a few of the institutions with similar programs.
But Washington High remains ahead of the curve. In preparation for the holidays, the school is hosting food drives for its December backpack program: The plan is to send students home with backpacks filled with two weeks' worth of supplies to get them through the long break.