The food pantry at Burncoat Senior High School

(editor’s note: Why not get friends and family together and make up a special Burncoat package to be given to students for the holidays?)

By Edith Morgan

It seems almost incomprehensible to me that there could be large numbers of Worcester families whose members are going hungry, skipping meals, or unsure where their next meal is coming from – or are filling up on unhealthy but cheap pastas, rice (white, not the whole grain stuff which is more costly) and fast food.

But when I went to Burncoat Senior High School a few weeks ago to write about their food pantry (one of several in the city), I discovered that even here, in the heart of my Worcester neighborhood, the Lincoln-Burncoat area, hunger stalks Worcester homes and families.

And so, about three years ago,  the Burncoat Food Pantry was born. I spoke with Assistant Principal Jean Stone and a  guidance counselor who filled me in about their activities to relieve hunger among some of their students. As a retired teacher, I know very well how hard it is to learn and concentrate on an empty stomach – and how much energy it takes just to get through the morning till lunch time. Like most of the food pantries in Worcester, in churches, neighborhood centers and other schools, Burncoat operates during school hours 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The big sign outside the front entrance tells anybody who drives or walks past the high school on Burncoat Street just that.  Non-perishables, like canned goods (soups, vegetables, beans) and staples (rice, dried beans, pasta, oatmeal), can be donated during those times, and should be left inside the front door of the school.

While Burncoat has a large percentage of students on free and subsidized lunch, about 5% of the student body of around 1,000 students is really suffering from hunger. It is these students who came to the attention of school staff and counselors, and for whom the pantry was established. On Fridays, students can select cans and staples to take home, from the rows of donated goods in the pantry.

In its first year, the pantry distributed 19 turkeys with all the trimmings; the following year 36 bags were distributed; this year there were 50 bags of turkey and other Thanksgiving goodies given out.

Getting donations, doing all the work to keep up this effort, is, according to Mrs. Stone, a coordinated effort, with many generous people pitching in. Each department is assigned items they are to contribute, and I was told of examples of different ideas being implemented for raising money and donations. Both staff members with whom I spoke repeatedly praised the great generosity of everyone in the community. Assumption College, some local businesses, neighbors – everyone gives. The Burncoat Language Honor Society, under Mrs. Friedman, for example, did a food drive; Burncoat Life Skills students help to organize the donated materials.

Cooperation among Worcester schools also was mentioned. Before establishing this pantry, Burncoat staffers visited South High School, on the opposite side of the city. South High also has a successful food pantry for their students. Burncoat staff came away with ideas and inspiration.

I came away from my visit to Burncoat impressed with the caring atmosphere and the attention paid to the “total” student.

Anyone who lives in the area (or anywhere, really!), is welcome to donate food items or help out.  Favorite items for year-round needs: pasta, rice, beans, soups, breakfast cereals and the perennial favorites – PEANUT BUTTER and JELLY.