Pantry provides food for less fortunate

Kylie Hughes, Online Editor

Across the library, in the back corner, sits a seemingly inconspicuous door. Many students disregard this door, most have probably never even noticed it. Yet, to some students, they know this door and what lies behind it and the importance it plays at North High.

In what once was a storage closet, which used to house old technology as it was replaced with new devices, North has its very own food pantry.

Evidence of the storage closet that it once was still remains with old, bulky projectors lined up along the top shelves of one wall. Beneath these outdated pieces of technology are shelves and shelves of canned food.

It started when Harriet Strehlow, librarian at Omaha North, saw an article about a food pantry that Ralston High school had and thought that “North could do this.” She recognized that there are students at North who would benefit from this pantry and that there was a perfect spot in the back of the library.

It took a conversation with Gene Haynes, principal, to gain his approval before this food pantry became a reality.

This small room holds everything from food to shampoo. Almost floor to ceiling of one wall holds shelves of canned goods. Another wall is filled with folded clothes. Jackets lay on a table in the front and toiletries in a cupboard on the back wall.

As a student walks along the border of this fairly small room, they first see a line of shelves along the wall with labels on the front, signaling the type of canned food: ravioli, corn, beans, pumpkin, green beans, etc. They walk down the next wall, filled with folded clothes and baby supplies. Baby blankets, toys, books, clothes, shirts, and pants line the wall. On the floor is a pile of jeans next to some shoes. Shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, pads, and other toiletries sit in the metal cupboard.

In some cases, it may be the school nurse who sends a student in need of some new clothes to the food pantry. Or in another case, a student might confess some financial problems at home to a counselor or teacher, who will send a student to Strehlow.

“I see students stop by the pantry every week. I know some come by every other day and other might only come once,” Strehlow said.

When students come to her, she shows them the room and then walks away. She doesn’t want them to feel pressured if she is looking over their shoulders. They are “free to take what they need.”

“Students can come here, no questions asked,” Strehlow said.

There are even black garbage bags located in the pantry for students who want to carry out some clothes or cans but do not want the rest of the school to see.

All of the supplies that are in the pantry are donations. Teachers and staff are informed of this method of helping students who need it. Many of the donations come from the staff.

When Strehlow had one student come in asking if she had any wallets in the pantry, she sent an email to staff that day and within the next three days, there were three wallets in the pantry.

“It’s just teachers looking out for students,” said Strehlow.

Yet, it’s not just teachers. The Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) has also started setting aside money to go into supplying the pantry, particularly the toiletries. Organizations around Omaha also pitch in to help. Students are also welcome to drop off some food, clothes or supplies.

Then if the canned food gets near its expiration date, Strehlow takes the cans to the Food Bank who can use that food for people in need in the community. With the clothes, after some clothes have been in North’s food pantry for a while, she takes them to the Salvation Army.

“This way all of the donations are going to end up helping people,” Strehlow said.

Strehlow encourages students to look around at their teachers. Even the teachers that some students that may not particularly enjoy in class, are just there to help students, and have, most likely, helped North’s food pantry in some way.

While the needs of all the students will never be completely fulfilled, Strehlow said that as teachers, it’s the least they can do by donating some supplies to help a student in need.

“It’s what teachers do,” said Strehlow.