Produce with purpose: School pantry a much-needed resource

Provides families, shelters with groceries

Food pantry helps families who are food insecure

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A small school in downtown Tucson is making a big impact.

Imago Dei is a private middle school solely for low income families, with the majority of their students coming from marginalized communities. Many come to the school well below grade level — nearly one-third of the school’s students are English language learners.

Many of the families are below the poverty line and to attend the school, students have to qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Cameron Taylor, the head of the school, said that right now about 22 percent of the student body is composed of refugees.

The school saw a need and decided to attempt to open up a food pantry for the families.

It started small, inside a closet behind the school. The first donation was a can of crushed tomatoes.

After working for months, Imago Dei received a refrigerator and a freezer from the local Rotary Club and then landed a partnership with Trader Joe’s.

Now, every Wednesday and Friday, fresh food and produce are picked up by staff and parents to stock the pantry.

Aldis Rapa, food pantry coordinator, and AmeriCorps partner, said the pantry has been a saving grace for families.

“There are families that sometimes get displaced and they completely lose everything,” Rapa said. "They’re not just worried about food items but items they need for the house.”

The pantry also provides hygiene and paper products like toothpaste, toilet paper and paper towels. Things Rapa said aren’t provided with SNAP benefits.

It’s been a big help for Michelle Felix, who’s cousin attends the middle school.

“It’s been a really big help, in a way, because our parents can’t afford that much but they have really good resources for us,” Feix said.

Even when the day is done their pantry remains pretty stocked, but their shelf life is far from over.

“Sometimes we’ll just get a lot of produce, a lot of baked goods, and a lot of that is perishable, so we actually bring all that over to the women’s and men’s shelter here in Tucson," Rapa said.

On Wednesdays the food goes to the Gospel Rescue Mission’s men’s shelter and on Friday’s it goes to GRM’s women’s shelter.

It’s produce with a purpose, a chance to give and give back, all within a bag of groceries.

“To see the excitement on these kids face it’s kind of like they get to do their shopping for the first time ever and they love it, they enjoy it,” Rapa said.

Imago Dei also allows it’s graduates and their families to utilize the pantry as well.

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