Colorful backpacks hang neatly on hooks in the hallway outside Margaret’s Market. Inside, cereal, canned vegetables and other pantry staples line silver shelves, and plastic bins filled with assorted snacks and personal hygiene items top the tables around the classroom’s perimeter.
Each week, 22 students from Margaret B. Rost School receive a variety of fresh and shelf-stable items so their families have enough food for the weekend. Margaret’s Market began this school year with help from the Freestore Foodbank school pantry initiative, which provides permanent on-site food assistance at select local schools.
“It’s been very well-received by families,” said Kim Newcomb, a transition team member at Rost who coordinates the Margaret’s Market program.
Rost staff requested to be part of the Power Pack program several years ago but it never panned out. Two years ago, while Newcomb was bringing students to the Freestore Foodbank to help assemble boxes for other shipments, she reconnected with program administrators and decided to try again. This time, they were approved for a school pantry.
Once a month, the Freestore Foodbank drops off shipments to restock the pantry, and Rost students help fill the backpacks for their classmates. “I always try to make sure it’s a full meal,” Newcomb said. “When we have hot dogs, we’ll send home buns, condiments, pork and beans, and canned vegetables.”
Margaret’s Market has made a huge impact on students and their families, and many parents have sent thank-you notes or called to express their appreciation. Before the program started, one student was a very picky eater, often opting for chicken nuggets and nutritional drinks. Now he eats everything they send home, including jambalaya, because he is very proud to help out his family by providing meals, Newcomb said.
This monumental change means he’s more willing to go to restaurants and other places in the community with his peers. “It’s opened up all kinds of social opportunities for him,” said Rost Principal Duerk Zinn.
Margaret’s Market is for students who attend Rost and their immediate families, but the Freestore Foodbank delivers fresh produce and other items so staff are able to help community members in need with pop-up markets.
“It’s been wonderful, and it really touches you to see how much it’s appreciated,” Newcomb said of the program. She added that Rost staff Melissa Sutthoff, Pam Traut and Rita Kortekamp are key to making Margaret’s Market so successful.