CLAIR-MEL — It's estimated that millions of American children live with food-insecure homes, homes that lack sufficient nutritious and quality food.
Locally, members of the Hillsborough County Center for Excellence have teamed up with the Clair-Mel Elementary School community on a project that is designed to bridge the food-insecure gap among students.
Last week, the Center's board members joined with school officials to open the Clair-Mel Food Pantry at the school located south and east of downtown Tampa.
Inside a former office are shelves stocked with canned tuna, apple juice, dry cereal, and other groceries.
Funded by a $2,000 Martin Luther King Day of Service grant from Hillsborough Community College, the pantry was installed after surveying Clair-Mel families.
Center director Mary Lindsey, who anticipated requests for more tutoring or money for field trips, said she was shocked at survey results that revealed families struggled greatly with "the basics" of food and clothing.
"Hungry children have difficulty performing," she said. "So we're going to take care of the basics."
The next step for the nonprofit is to find corporate sponsors who will help keep the pantry full. The center is one of 10 in the state established in 1985 to identify and motivate disadvantaged minority elementary and secondary students.
About 97 percent of Clair-Mel students participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program, said Principal Richard Grayes.
There is a food bank in the area, but it is not easily accessible, Grayes said.
Having a pantry at the school makes it easier for Clair-Mel families that need help to get it expeditiously, he said.
"This is just one of our ways of providing a layer of support so that they are successful," he said. "This is about us being a hub of the community."
To shop the pantry, parents must register with the school social worker who will arrange visitations.
Clair-Mel parent Patricia Cisneros said the pantry will go a long way to fill a void at the school.
"I know a lot of kids here who are really in need," she said. "Sometimes breakfast and lunch here are the only meals they get."
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