After around 25 years as an educator, Pleasant Hope superintendent Kelly Lowe knows that sometimes, the students in his classrooms have left school and gone home to empty pantries.
It’s a challenging situation, Lowe said, for a district which has around 67% of its students on free or reduced price meals.
“I know I have kids that go home every night and potentially on the weekends, and they’re hungry,” he said.
It was a hard truth to face for the veteran educator, he said, so, when he got a call late last year about a grant the district could receive through Springfield-based Life360 Church that would provide free free food for every student, he set up a meeting with his administrators to discuss the idea.
For middle school principal Lance Gallamore, the program seemed to check all the boxes.
“I thought this could be a great resource for our families with students who are unsure of where the next meal may come from,” he said.
After a round of talks, Lowe accepted the grant. Under the agreement, Pleasant Hope has no financial obligations, he said. The church utilizes government funds to provide food for the district and around 15 others in southwest Missouri.
The food, which meets state and federal dietary standards, arrives in boxes each day and is placed outside every classroom in the district. Inside, healthy snacks, including fruit, vegetables and milk, await disbursement.
“They want to work in districts like ours,” he said.
For Aaron Williams with Life360, the opportunity means a chance to help others. Williams, along with Debby Cederblom, deliver food to each of the district’s three campuses.
“We’ve got it down so it’s smooth,” Williams said.
The district restructured its day so teachers had time to distribute food and students could eat.
“This can’t be taken out of instructional time, so you have to have 10 minutes at the end of the day,” Lowe said.
High school principal Brent Offerdahl said, so far, implementation has been smooth.
“It’s been a great program for the kids, and we haven’t had any complaints,” he said. “There hasn’t been any trash left out.”
Lowe said the church asked for a roster of each classroom and packs the exact number of servings each day. If any students opt not to eat their full serving, it can be distributed out to the rest of the class.
“If the kids don’t want it, we can give extra to the kids that do,” Offerdahl said. “Some kids walk out of here with a gallon of milk some days.”
For Lowe, the grant checks all the boxes.
“For us, the biggest concern was, will this get in the way of what we’re doing educationally? No, it doesn’t. Is it going to be a mess? No, it isn’t,” he said. “The benefit is that our kids get nutritional things they can eat at the end of the day.”