Food Pantry Fills Void, Helps Special Students Learn Real-Life Skills

HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Food insecurity affects many families, even in the heart of Howard County.

At Atholton High School, a special group of students work behind the scenes to operate a food pantry designed to help area families. The food pantry was launched in November 2023 and serves around 30 families a month and growing.

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“We had so many families going to other schools that needed additional support with food. We knew it was a need. Every month, we get more and more families because there are so many hungry families. Everyone deserves food,” Erin Bourque, transition specialist at Atholton High School, told Patch. “I get emails daily about people needing food.”

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The school’s pupil personnel worker and social worker help identify families who could benefit from the food pantry who, in turn, invite others to visit the food pantry.

“I have also opened it up to the whole school and community. I have asked the surrounding churches to advertise to that families that need support are able to know about it. I also share it with the surrounding elementary schools as well. We can’t do our jobs here at the school if kids are hungry, so this is doing a very small thing by helping alleviate some of those barriers and stress for families,” Bourque said.

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The pantry offers shelf stable items like rice and ramen noodles, as well as prepared meals. There’s also cereal, oatmeal, canned fruits and vegetables, soup and condiments. There’s also baby items such as diapers and wipes, as well as household goods like toilet paper.

No one needs to show proof of need to visit the food pantry. People can help support the pantry through food drives held at the high school or through their Amazon wish list.

“We are run completely on donations. So every month I am casting our net wide to see who can help fill up our shelves,” Bourque told Patch.

Not only does the food pantry serve an important function in the community, it also offers a group of students the chance to run it and help others.

“I have created our food pantry to be a perfect in-building work opportunity for our students with significant disabilities. Our students in our academic life skills program run our food pantry by matching similar cans like corn and corn, check expiration dates, etc. When we get shipments from Amazon, students will put those away. They also work on job skills in the food pantry such as learning how to stock the shelves and front face by pulling the items up to the front of the shelf,” Bourque told Patch.

“Our students also help with getting all our boxes ready for distribution. It has really allowed our students to practice in a fake grocery store setting so they can possibly then transfer those skills to a real job. It has been so powerful for the kids to be able to work and do really meaningful tasks,” she added.

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