Crockpots in the Classroom? School Finds Creative Ways to Combat Hunger

Hungry students can't learn, say teachers at Perry Traditional Academy. They've found unique ways to nourish student's bodies and build community in the process.

(Image: Perry Traditional Academy Food Pantry GoFundMe Page)

Librarian Sheila May-Stein knew she had to do something when a student told her she was starving. The girl confided that other people in her family were eating what little food there was at home, leaving nothing for her.

May-Stein and the other teachers at Pittsburgh Perry Traditional Academy in the city's Perry Hilltop neighborhood already knew there was a problem with hunger or "food insecurity" in their student body. They also recognized that the small portions in free and reduced school breakfast and lunches weren't enough for active teenagers. So they got together to come up with some pretty unique and creative solutions (yes, kids even eat in class!).

We got a chance to see how they're not only feeding students' bodies, but their minds and souls by creating a community of food.

Thanks to a collaboration between teachers and a student committee, Perry has its own food bank. This is the second year for the pantry, which is supported by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The Food Bank makes a delivery every couple of weeks, but the group still has to pay a fee for the food. That's why they've established a GoFundMe page . Right now they can only take money donations for the pantry -- they can't accept food donations. In partnership with GPCFB the school also holds "pop-up" pantries that are open to students' families and offer fresh produce and meat. "We said we can't do a lot about a lot of things but maybe we can do something about hunger," said May-Stein.

The pantry works hand in hand with classroom efforts to keep the kids fed and focused on learning during the school day. Most teachers have carts with snacks students can eat in class if they haven't had breakfast, or if they need something to tide them over until lunch or dismissal. Three teachers have what they call the "Crockpot Connection" where they make crockpots full of hearty food like stew and chili each Friday. "Kids have been coming in all morning saying Ms. Brentley, I'm hungry, can I have something to eat," said history teacher Sharon Brentley who was serving chicken noodle soup the day we were there (that's her, above, with senior Chereigna Jones). Next door, history teacher Rochelle Oaks had sloppy joes in her crock pot and was serving her own students, and others who stopped by.

"It's hard to learn when you're hungry." Dr. Rochelle Oaks, history teacher

Staff views the pantry, the snack carts and the crockpots as more than just food for hungry kids. "I say 'food for the soul and food for the brain' so we give them both," said Dr. Oaks. May-Stein agrees: "When we nourish ourselves physically we nourish ourselves spiritually too."

"It really creates an atmosphere that saves us all." Sheila May-Stein, librarian

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