Food shows love: Pantry reopening helps feed Avon families
By Stephanie Dolan
Teacher in Avon, Holly Clark, noticed hungry kids in her classroom, and without basic needs met, they were distracted by grumbling stomachs.
“When I started teaching, the very first year I noticed that some of the kids in my classroom were coming to school hungry,” Clark said. “I told them that if they came in without breakfast they could snag something from the snack drawer.”
That small gesture turned into Clark purchasing groceries and slowly sending them home in students’ backpacks.
“Then, when my husband lost his job 10 years ago, our family was no longer able to provide that extra money for the kids, and I started looking for other ways to provide food,” she said. “I became part of the Backsack Program through Gleaners. But we just kept feeling like we needed to do more than just send that little bag of food home for the weekend.”
That lead to the grand reopening for the Mary Lee Maier Community Pantry Sept. 19, a much needed source for hungry school families in Avon.
Located at Avon Intermediate School East, the pantry was named for its main benefactor’s mother-in-law. Mike Cunningham of Cunningham Restaurant Group has spent money and time on the relocation and grand opening of the food pantry.
“It’s named after his mother-in-law, who was a kindergarten teacher and always giving back to others,”said Kristi Kerr, pantry board president.
Kerr has been involved with the pantry for the last three years, volunteering first before joining the board. Kerr has recently succeeded Clark, as president. Clark and her two co-founders are teachers in Avon schools..
While Clark experienced children with food insecurity in her classroom firsthand, teachers in other locations throughout the school district were dealing with the same issue in their classrooms. Superintendent Maggie Hoernemann brought these instructors together in the hopes to create something transformative.
“We sat down and decided we were going to find a way to open a food pantry through the school,” Clark said. “We were searching for grant money or community businesses or organizations that would sponsor the food pantry.”
The group worked for two years planning and writing grants.
“After a meeting, I came into my principal’s office and Mike Cunningham came to mind,” Kerr said. “I knew what a great guy he was and how he was always giving back to the community. He said he would love to be a part of our project.”
The pantry started small in a classroom at Maple Elementary School until the 2018 referendum passed, and opened space to move to an empty classroom at Avon Intermediate School East.
“We were probably serving 15 to 20 families at the time, and then we got social media involved,” said co-founder Sarah Tuttle. “We eventually were able to do more and more, and then would help with breaks and Thanksgiving meals. Now, we serve up to 50 families a week.”
This small gesture feels very big to Tuttle.
“It’s a huge thing,” she said. “We know that if kids’ basic needs aren’t met when it comes to food and food insecurity, that they won’t perform, and they won’t be the best that they can be. Meeting those basic needs is really important and knowing that they can feel safe and secure in that aspect means that they trust and feel safe and secure when they’re at school.”
While educators can’t control many factors, helping relieve hungry bellies is one basic need they can meet, Tuttle said.
“We had this vision that all students have the right to reach their full potential and that their basic needs need to be met,” said Kayla Kuepper, the third food pantry founder. “That vision grew, and we moved beyond just handing out boxes of food before breaks.”
As a person who centers her life around her faith, Kuepper has always worked toward serving and giving back to others.
“Every kid deserves the absolute best, and it’s an incredible feeling knowing that I’ve been able to help these kids and their families,” she said. “When they grow up they can be empowering citizens back in their community.”
Tuttle believes it’s important that people know that this pantry is a part of the Avon community.
“We don’t just give them food and send them on their way,” she said. “We get to know our customers as people.”
At the beginning of the school year, students receive backpacks and school supplies.
“It’s bonded people together to know that they’re not alone in this situation,” Tuttle said.
Those who come to the pantry also get served by people who used to come for food.
“This is a situational thing for a lot of the people who have been customers,” Tuttle said. “Eventually, those situations change, and then they’re in a position to give back to the pantry. They volunteer or they donate food. They know how much it’s helped them, and they want to give back. These people want to give, too.”
Of all the project Clark has participated in throughout her life, the pantry is the best.
“When we have students who come in and get excited just because they get to pick out their own box of cereal, or they carry around a jar of peanut butter like it’s a present, it reminds you how not to take little things for granted and to give back to your community,” she said. “You never know who’s struggling.”
Fill the shelves
Mary Lee Maier Community Pantry
Make donations by dropping off items at the Avon Community School Corporation main office, 7203 E. U.S. 36 or Avon Intermediate School East, 174 S. Avon Ave.
To volunteer or for a wish list, visit http://avon-schools.org/pantry
Kayla Kuepper (left to right), Sarah Tuttle and Holly Clark serve others so children in their classrooms in Avon have food and basic hygiene products.
Who or what inspires you?
My parents are my biggest inspiration. They have taught me so much about how to love and take care of others around me.
What are you currently reading?
My favorite author is Rachel Hollis. Her words novitiate me to keep fighting and never give up on my dreams.
What is your favorite food?
My favorite food is chips and salsa.
Who or what inspires you? Honestly, my family are the people who inspire me, seeing how hard they work. My family inspires me to keep going and doing everything that I do.
What are you currently reading? In my class we’re reading “Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.”
What is your favorite food? I love cheesecake.
Who or what inspires you? My faith and my beliefs inspire me to be the best person that I can be to inspire those around me.
What are you currently reading? “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown
What is your favorite food? Chocolate chip cookie dough
Holly Clark, Sarah Tuttle and Kayla Kuepper took part in the reopening of the Mary Lee Maier Community Pantry Sept. 19.
In addition to food, families can pick up personal hygiene products such as soap and toothpaste.
(Photos by Rick Myers)