Food Pantry at North helps students

Telegraph photo by GRACE PECCI Students in need at Nashua High School North access the school’s food pantry during E-block or after school. The food pantry is open for all students and their families. Coordinator Dawn Morton said the pantry provides about 700 meals per month to students and their families.

NASHUA – Anyone who looked at the food pantry at Nashua High School North 10 years ago would find some non-perishable items such as canned soup, but that was about it.

Ten years later, Food Pantry Coordinator Dawn Morton said the pantry has really taken off and provides about 700 meals a month. Tucked away in a corner of the school, the room is lined with shelves of non-perishable items, including pasta, cereal, peanut butter and toilet paper. There’s also a full-sized refrigerator and freezer stocked with goods.

Morton, who is also full-time special education case manager at the school, has been running the pantry for about seven years.

“I run this just because I enjoy it and I see the need,” Morton said.

Originally, the food pantry consisted solely of donated goods from school staff members, but the program now receives donations from a number of outlets. North’s food pantry has been able to join the New Hampshire Food Bank. The community has also come together to raise both funds and food. Morton said every year, they get food from the New Hampshire Tackles Hunger food drive, which is given to the food pantries at Nashua High School North and Nashua High School South. Members of North’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, music department and athletic teams host drives and raise money, while parents and volunteers also donate.

Word of the food pantry has gotten out from staff telling their friends and family. Morton said now outside organizations and business have decided to help.

Next week, Keith Klawes’s Culinary Arts II class will be cooking turkeys that Morton received from the New Hampshire Food Bank and will make them available for families.

This isn’t the first time the community at North has come together to support their students. Morton said in recent months, staff members got together to help a homeless student who was living in his car by providing him with clothing, gift cards and a temporary place to stay until he graduated. They also helped a student who was eight months pregnant and her family, and got them out of a shelter and into an apartment with household items and furniture. They also provided diapers, baby items and clothes.

“It’s a big school, but we take care of our own,” Morton said.“The school community has been amazing. They’ve answered every single request I’ve put out.”

She said she is now building a fund to provide for specific needs.

Morton said on Thursday, she got an email from a woman who is a friend of a teacher and decided to donate $2,000.

“I’m speechless,” Morton said. “I used to have to beg for a couple of hundred dollars. It’s awesome – the word is getting out and that people are seeing this as a need.”

The food pantry is open for students and their families during the school day or after school. Morton said parents can make appointments. The food pantry has expanded significantly due to the refrigerator and freezer donated by staff.

The food pantry is open during E-block time and students can see guidance counselors or visit Morton during the school day.

“We’ll make sure we have anything they need,” Morton said.

She added that she’ll give snacks out of her office such as granola bars or peanut butter crackers.

“Kids can’t learn on an empty stomach,” Morton said.

North’s food pantry accepts donations of non-perishable food items, grocery gift cards or cash. Other items needed include cereal, single cereal cups, breakfast bars, granola bars, tarts, canned meats, chili, canned pasta, beef stew, heart soups, fruit cups, apple sauce, boxed meal starters, spaghetti, pasta sauce, peanut butter, jelly (non-grape), fluff, bread mix, muffin, cookie or brownie mixes, paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent and dish soap. No canned vegetables are needed at this time.

The pantry also carries some school supplies and accepts donations of backpacks.