Panther Pantry feeds hungry children, nurtures friendship

Community Featured

A school cafeteria might seem like a place where hunger wouldn’t be a problem, however, kids sent to school without a lunch may tell you otherwise.

To help avoid any child having to go without food, the Panther Pantry was created. When New Glasgow Academy was designed and built, the need for a nutrition lab and Panther Pantry was made clear.

For those who attend the elementary and middle school, the pantry is a safe space for them to retreat to and get something to eat. For the past three years, teacher Paul Heighton and his team of volunteers watch kids come and go at the pantry, all in need of lunch or a snack.

“There is approximately 600 students at the school; they can come in no questions asked,” said Heighton.

He shared that on average, the pantry sees 70 kids that use the services. For the past few years, the pantry has been running on a grant from Sobeys which is getting ready to expire. Heighton has been working tirelessly through mountains of applications to find another grant to help sustain the program that feeds so many children.

He added that the program generally costs $15,000 for the year or $400 a week to feed the children a hot lunch each day or snacks needed.

“We’re trying to get any volunteers or grants that we can get our hands on,” he said.

Each day from 12 noon to 1:15 p.m., there is a hot lunch provided for children who attend the Panther Pantry, although any other time of the day children are still welcome to stop by and get a cold snack such as a granola bar.

Heighton noted that some of the sentiments he has heard from children who use the program can be heartbreaking. He mentioned that he has been told a few times by students that they would not have anything to eat if it were not for the program. Although there is a worry on snow days that a child might be going without food, Heighton can only make sure they eat while they are at school, but he certainly thinks about the children on the days off.

Heighton has collected thoughts from some of the children to help with grant applications, testimonies from the children that are heartbreaking to hear.

“I like eating at the Panther Pantry because if I don’t I would starve,” said one of the children.

“I would be so sad if there was no Panther Pantry because I would have no lunch,” said another.

Unlike adult food programs or kitchens, the teacher shared that there is a very minimal stigma around students stopping by the pantry. Stigma and judgment around that sort of thing is something that staff and volunteers watch out for.

“It’s a pretty accepting school here,” he added. “That’s part of the reason why it’s so successful.” The program not only provides a hot meal for children when needed, but also nurtures important friendships and socialization that is created by sitting down together and eating a meal.

“It’s usually the same crowd that comes,” said volunteer Sherry-Lynn Hattie. “It’s usually a happy environment.”

Volunteer Sherry-Lynn Hattie puts a pizza bun on a plate in the Panther Pantry for that day’s hot meal provided to children who come to the New Glasgow school without a lunch. (Brimicombe photo)