Ricki Waltz, Holly Spence and Sarah DeRosa, who helped to co-found a food pantry at Fisher Mitchell School in Bath. Contributed photo

A supply closet in the Fisher Mitchell School library was recently converted into a food pantry, thanks to a collaboration between secretary Holly Spence, school counselor Sarah DeRosa and nurse Erica “Ricki” Waltz, and through a partnership with the Bath Area BackPack Program and the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine.

“The pantry is available to all FMS families,” said Spence in a news release adding that any student can take food whether out of convenience or need.

Before the pantry, the Bath Area BackPack Program, with food supplied by Good Shepherd, provided pre-selected healthy foods to Fisher Mitchell students on the weekends and before school vacations. Spence and Waltz felt that the program wasn’t developing the level of engagement they believed was possible, so they talked to the organization about an approach that was already in use at several other Bath area schools. A pantry. With a pantry, they reasoned, students could have more autonomy over the food they took home.

The Bath Area PackPack Program was receptive to the idea, and agreed to fund the pantry.

“We’ve found that the kids have a sense of what their family needs and will carefully choose what items they take,” DeRosa said. “They have a sense of ‘we would eat that’ or ‘not that.’ It gives them a little sense of responsibility.”

Every week the pantry’s inventory is assessed, and foods are reordered monthly based on popularity. Shopping lists are also available so that families can request certain shelf-stable foods, and there is currently no way to store refrigerated or frozen goods. The lack of refrigeration also means fresh produce (delivered once a month) must be distributed the same day it is delivered.

To minimize food waste and maximize accessibility, Fisher Mitchell started “Table Talk Tuesdays.” The after-school event might coincide with the delivery of produce, but Table Talk Tuesdays aren’t just about the pantry. They are also an opportunity for families to get to know each other and have a conversation with school staff, including Principal Ross Berkowitz.

“There aren’t as many opportunities to meet other parents and make connections these days,” DeRosa said. “With Table Talk Tuesdays we’re trying to get back to an era of community.”

Looking to the future, DeRosa, Spence, and Waltz hope to use the pantry as a vehicle to promote wellness at FMS, and plan to eventually involve some students in the its daily operation. For now, they are focused on educating the school community about its offerings.

“The great thing about this program is that we’re flexible,” Spence said. “The pantry is run by what families want, and we do our best to provide convenient access.”

To learn more about the food pantry or coordinate a visit, please contact School Counselor Sarah DeRosa at [email protected]. The next Table Talk Tuesday will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 12, and will feature a holiday potluck dinner.

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