Pantry helps hungry students

There is more need than ever before for kids and their families.

Kids were arriving to school hungry in the morning. Some would not eat all day.

Three years ago Tiger Mountain Community High School secretary and registrar Amy Wiggins, along with educational assistant Tammy Anderson saw the need to help. Wiggins said 35 percent of Tiger Mountain’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch this year, some for the first time.

“Kids started telling stories about home, how there’s no food,” Wiggins said. Anderson added that they’ve heard it all.

As the two women started talking to the kids, they found there is more need than ever. In fact, Wiggins said they now send food home weekly for four students, all possible because of the pantry they’ve set up in a small room off of the staff break room.

Food, toiletries and even feminine hygiene products are stocked in the pantry. Donations come in from food drives by the PTSA, SEIU (Service Employees International Union), the Issaquah Education Association, private individuals, businesses and faith-based organizations. The need also is getting out to the community by word of mouth.

Anderson said last year Honda of Bellevue took two brand-new vans off the lot, full of food, and brought them to the school.

The Issaquah Education Association has donated gift cards for places such as Subway, where kids and their families can get a healthy meal, gas cards and even cards to purchase alarm clocks.

“We try not to hand people gift cards indiscriminately,” Wiggins said.

The pair also tries to keep granola bars and instant oatmeal in steady supply for a quick, healthy breakfast for kids who arrive with an empty stomach. The local food bank also helps out since many of the students have two working parents who can’t always get to the food bank itself.

Wiggins said families she has known for years have had to turn to the food bank for help — people who used to be on the giving end. And more and more families are filling out applications for free and reduced lunch. The school offers lunch Monday through Thursday. Students attend half-day on Fridays, but 10 sack lunches are provided for the most needy kids to take with them.

Neva Luke was a teacher in the Issaquah School District for 30 years. She was president of the Issaquah Education Association the last four years of her career.

“I got to know what was going on at Tiger and learned about the need,” she said.

The foundation needed someone to lead a basic student needs committee and Luke was happy to take the job. She and staff at Tiger Mountain met to identify what was needed the most. Cori Kauk, director of the Issaquah Food Bank started the Nourishing Network, so various service organizations could come together to avoid duplication of donations.

Kauk said food bank donations were down in July through September, but they’re picking up now.

“I think that’s common with most food banks,” she said.

Tiger Mountain has 101 students this school year in grades 9-12. The teachers try to individualize assignments for each student. Wiggins said hands-on learning is included, which the students enjoy.

But the need is there.

“It’s proportionately greater to the total number of students they have,” Luke said.