Food Bank opens free school markets to reduce hunger

For the 5,000 students and their families in the Jennings School District in Missouri, the St. Louis Area Foodbank recently opened J-Town Market at Fairview Elementary School and the Jennings Educational Training School.

Photos by Jennings School District

The St. Louis Area Foodbank, with support from the Bayer Fund, is addressing hunger by providing school food markets at no cost for students and their families in selected school districts in the greater St. Louis area.

“We believe that by giving students access to these school food markets, we can increase class attendance, decrease the number of trips to the school nurse’s office, and help contribute to healthier futures for every child in our community,” said Meredith Knopp, president and CEO of the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

Just last month, a $90,000 grant from Bayer allowed Cahokia School District in Illinois to open a market at the Power of Change Family Multiplex. For the 5,000 students and their families in the Jennings School District in Missouri, J-Town Market opened at Fairview Elementary School and the Jennings Educational Training School.

“When non-profits, school districts and business leaders join together to do good, anything is possible,” said Art McCoy, superintendent of Jennings School District. “It’s truly a pleasure to partner with outstanding organizations to support our students with sustenance and empower our families to have their basic needs met. When we move at the speed of need, children thrive, and we all succeed.”

More than 1,900 students in Cahokia and their families will be served by the program. Cahokia Unit School District 187 Superintendent Tanya Mitchell said they were thrilled to open the school market.

“Our goal is to eliminate hunger as an obstacle to education success,” Mitchell said. “Establishing this district hub will allow our staff to immediately assist our students and larger school community”

According to Feeding America, many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federally funded nutrition programs, resulting in increased reliance on local organizations and food banks so they don’t go hungry. School food markets address that need by providing fresh foods and grocery staple items. The Foodbank is looking to bring other districts into the pilot program, expecting to add additional schools during the second half of the school year.

“Our primary focus is schools with 75 percent or more free and reduced lunch,” Nicole Hawkins, senior director of Community Programs for St. Louis Area Foodbank, said. They are already working with a few different schools to see if school food markets are a good fit for them. The Foodbank needs strong buy-in from the school, parents, principals and administrators.

“We plan to open three more for the January to May semester,” said Hawkins. “This will be our pilot year, and then we should have some strong data around what we’ll be able to do in the future.”

The latest U.S. Census American Community Survey data from 2017 has 14.7 percent of Missourians living in poverty. Of that number 20 percent were children under age 18.

And a recent study issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated that 11 percent of all U.S. households were food-insecure in 2018; 7 percent included families with children. Households identified as food insecure either lacked resources or found it difficult to provide enough nutritious and adequate food for all family members.

“Hunger is a faceless reality and stigma for many students and their families,” said Al Mitchell, vice president of Corporate Engagement for Bayer. “Our support of the school food markets ensures families within the St. Louis region have access to a variety of healthy food items within a familiar environment.” 

Late last fall, St Louis Public Schools opened school-based markets offering fresh, frozen and shelf-stable foods at Yeatman-Liddell Preparatory Middle School and Ashland Elementary School by the St. Louis Area Foodbank and the Little Bit Foundation, through a grant from the Cigna Foundation.

The markets serve students coming to school in the morning hungry because they haven’t eaten since they had lunch the day before as well as students unable to concentrate throughout the school day because they don’t have snacks

“I think we all know the relationship between hunger and education is very close,” Hawkins said, “and if we can’t get our students feeling like their bellies are full, how can they concentrate on learning and growing?”

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