Lewis and Clark High School's Tiger Food Pantry features a collection of old shelves, a few recyclable bags and collapsible boxes, and of course, food. It is stacked in every corner — cans of spaghetti sauce and Campbell's soup, fresh apples and mac 'n' cheese, granola bars and cereal.
"Do you want anything?" Danielle Aranda offers as she crushes boxes. Aranda, a senior, has been working at the student-run food bank — the first of its kind in Spokane Public Schools — since October as part of her senior culminating project.
The food bank was conceived out of need.
"We can give kids lunch here, breakfast here... but what about dinner?" says Kathy Blancher, a counselor at LCHS and founder of the food bank.
The Tiger Pantry attempts to do something not often offered in the high school setting: feed children outside of school.
Getting food from the pantry is simple. A student just has to ask their counselor to let them into the pantry; they are allowed to take anything they want. The process is completely anonymous and open to students of all grades.
On top of that, on the third Wednesday of every month, 75 bags of fresh produce and canned food is delivered to LCHS and then taken home by students.
The food bank is backed by Second Harvest, which provides both the fresh food that doesn't keep at a regular food bank and anything else the budding Tiger Pantry might need. The rest of the food comes from donations: local grocery stores, Lewis and Clark families, and the high school's annual food drive.
The Tiger Pantry is now completely student-run. Every day, instead of taking a sixth-period class, Aranda stacks cans of food, throws away items that have gone bad, and packs and prepares bags to be given away. Thankfully, she has help. The list is long and includes students from all grades who help deliver the food on their big drop-off day.
As Aranda puts it, their hard work does not go to waste.
"It's really touching to see that it is actually impacting people. It's very heartwarming," she says.
Of course, there are still issues. Both Aranda and Blancher have expressed their need for a refrigeration system. With it, their fresh food would last longer, and they could include such things as dairy products in their regular food giveaways.
The food-bank bug is spreading. Since the Tiger Pantry's successful beginnings, North Central High School also has taken up the torch. Like Lewis and Clark, Annie Metz, North Central's Achievement Gap Intervention Specialist, noticed students who were going home hungry. She got in contact with Blancher, and soon North Central had their own pantry.
North Central plans to have their leadership class eventually take over, but right now all the responsibilities fall on Metz. Weekly, she drives to Second Harvest to pick up food donations; the food bank delivers once a month for North Central's big food giveaway, when 300 bags of fresh fruits and vegetables are taken home by students.
Rogers High School also is allowing Second Harvest to assist them. Although they don't yet have their own pantry, once a month Second Harvest delivers bags of canned goods and fresh fruit to their students.
Organizers of these food banks feel that these high school programs are building a community. Students take on the responsibility of running the pantry and keeping their fellow students from going home to an empty fridge.
Back at the Tiger Pantry, canned food, boxes of cereal and fresh apples stacked on metal shelves are shrouded in dim lighting in the staff parking garage beneath the school. It's Aranda — smiling and chattering about moving the food to a place more easily accessible to students — and others like her, who so easily and willingly give up their time for their service to others, who make it so meaningful. ♦