Free food pantry fights hunger in IR School District

Coastal Point • Laura Walter  : Michele Murphy shows some of the options families have at the food pantry.Coastal Point • Laura Walter : Michele Murphy shows some of the options families have at the food pantry.

When families arrive at the new Indian River School District’s Food Pantry, they don’t have to bring tax statements or financial papers.

“If they’re here, they’re hungry,” said Michele Murphy. “They do have to complete Food Bank paperwork, but there’s no proof that’s required.”

As IRSD Parent Center coordinator, Murphy helps many families with anything from college planning to free clothing.

Located within the G.W. Carver Educational Center in Frankford, people can select 30 free pounds of food items and 5 pounds of personal products.

Murphy is happy that the selection ranges from dinner to hair dye.

IRSD’s first food pantry has snacks, soup, baby food, pasta, cereal, canned vegetables and gravy, plus toilet paper, diapers, soap and toothpaste. People can pick up special treats, like cake mix, cookies, gum, hot chocolate and soda.

“We really try to have a variety with how you could make a healthy meal,” said Murphy, hoping to someday host fresh food demos.

Food can be sent home with students, but Murphy hopes parents will come in person to use other Parent Center services, like the free clothing closet, college planning and more.

“That’s how Dr. [Susan] Bunting set up the Parent Center, to be the sole source of support,” Murphy said.

“Our district Parent Center was created to provide families with the tools they need to support student achievement – both academically and personally,” Bunting wrote. The Food Pantry is a major extension of that support.

Funded by the Harry K Foundation, the Food Bank of Delaware will send supplies every week. Donations are welcome for non-perishable foods, plus personal items. The community can contact the Parent Center.

Halting hunger

The driving force behind this food pantry is the Harry K Foundation, which funded the project, and Food Bank for Delaware, which stocks the shelves.

“No red tape,” said Harry Keswani (Harry K). “Like the Red Cross for children.”

The lavish Harry K holiday gala funded this and pantries in seven other Sussex schools.

The Food Bank of Delaware also sends about 120 Sussex children home each weekend with a backpack of food for their families.

“This is what community is all about,” said Patricia Beebe, food bank president and CEO, thanking Keswani for his “tremendous” sincerity and follow-through.

She said about 20 percent of Sussex students live in “food insecure households,” higher than the 18.3 percent state average.

“We know students cannot learn well when they are hungry,” said Superintendent Susan Bunting, noting that some children actually save their school-issued snacks to feed siblings at home. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

The important part is “Everybody working together to make this happen. It’s really not about the money. It’s about what’s up here and here,” said Beebe, pointing to her head and heart.

Keswani’s philanthropy began overseas when he helped distribute food and homeopathic medicines in rural villages.

“Once I can afford to, I will start giving back,” he decided long ago. Now in the U.S., “I realized there was a big need in our own backyard.”

In his own personal success, he created the Harry K Foundation, which he said has “100 percent no administrative fees.”

“Hunger is all around us, and it is our civic responsibility to feed our people,” Keswani wrote.

His goal is to bring food pantries to all schools, starting with eight more in 2015. The second annual Harry K. Foundation Christmas Ball was held Dec. 6 at Rehoboth Beach Country Club. Proceeds will help fight childhood hunger.

Food pantry planning began in spring. The shelves were assembled by G.W. Carver custodians and stocked by TAPP students (Transition And Parallel Program, ages 18 to 21).

IRSD Parent Center Food Pantry is open Fridays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for drop in visits. Call during the week for an appointment.

The Parent Center is available at (302) 732-1522 or under the “Parents and Students” tab of Email for more information.

“Every family that has come here has left with a hug,” Murphy said. “It’s one of the favorite parts of my day.”

Beebe hopes people know “just how wonderful this is … These things don’t happen all the time.”

How to use the IRSD Parent Center Food Pantry

Families in need with children attending the Indian River School District may use the free food pantry in Frankford. People can drop in on Fridays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. when school is open, or by individual appointment by calling (302) 732-1522. G.W. Carver Education Center is located at 30207 Frankford School Road.