MADISON (WKOW) -- In the average Wisconsin school 37% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Over at Madison East High School, that number is quite a bit higher. School administrators tell 27 News about 56% of students qualify for lunch assistance.
"Obviously there's a need," East High School Principal Mike Hernandez says. "Every day we look at this and it's a struggle watching kids that are hungry."
Hernandez says more than 100 of these students are currently homeless. For many of them, their free or reduced price lunch at school is the only meal they'll have that day. This sad truth prompted the creation of a new food pantry inside the school.
"A couple of volunteers in the community heard about this idea on the east coast. They talked to us about doing it here," Hernandez says.
The idea was to create a food pantry inside the school so students can sign up for the program and grab food on their way home and share it with their families. The pantry itself is located on the second floor of East High School in an unused closest. The pantry officially opened Monday afternoon and is currently being run by a student club called Food for Thought.
"With being hungry at school all the time, how much that would change your ability to learn," Food for Thought club member Kyra Raines says.
"Our goal is to provide something for my peers where they could not have to worry about where they would get their next meal," member Rowan Koester-Jess adds.
Besides collecting food donations, students also came up with the idea of collecting donated back packs for students who use the pantry and don't want their friends or fellow students to know about it. They can just take the food, put it in the backpack and no one would have to know.
Wisconsin representative Melissa Sargent is an East High School graduate. She was present during Monday's ribbon-cutting ceremony and says it's sad that a pantry like this is needed.
"Free and reduced price lunch populations at our schools all across Madison have been rising and we need to be supporting our young people," Sargent explains.
The food is distributed by a faculty adviser, but the students themselves take care of everything else. They coordinate with a variety of community groups to make sure these shelves never go empty.
"I'm very proud of the work the kids have done," Hernandez says. "What we're trying to do is take care of the hunger and those needs so students are ready to work and ready to learn."
School administrators say the pantry has already supplied 19 students with bags of food for their families. Students in the club meet every Monday to talk about ideas for the pantry. Every Tuesday they unpack all of the donated food items and monitor their inventory.