While the holiday season can be a time of food-centered celebration, for some Norman students, winter break can be a reminder of the chronic hunger they face at home.
With nearly 50% of Norman Public Schools students on free or reduced lunch, and a smaller group facing daily hunger that may affect their lives and learning, the district is working to provide students with food options for the two-week break.
“Sadly, throughout Oklahoma there is a definite food shortage and food scarcity for families,” said Sharon Heatly, NPS’ director of counseling and student advocacy. “Even in Norman, we have concerns about students that are chronically hungry.”
For students who do deal with chronic hunger, the district and community partners provide food on a weekly basis, and will provide two weeks of food this week to carry students through the break. The Oklahoma Regional Food Bank estimates that one in four children in the state live in food insecure households.
In Norman, about 500 elementary students who deal with hunger participate in the backpack program with the Regional Food Bank, which allows them to receive a backpack of food each Friday, Heatly said. This week, they’ll receive double what they might get in a normal Friday backpack, Heatly said.
In the district’s middle schools, Heatly said the Junior League of Norman purchases food from the Regional Food Bank food and delivers food to middle school students on Friday afternoons. Assistance League of Norman mans food pantries at both the city’s high schools, allowing students to shop for their needs. All students will be able to take home enough food for two weeks, Heatly said.
For students who might need additional resources beyond what they bring home from school, Heatly said there’s multiple local partners that can connect families with the food they need. United Way of Norman will help match families with the food services they need, Heatly said.
Beyond the Regional Food Bank and the high schools’ pantries, there are also multiple pantry options in town, like Mission Norman or the Salvation Army. Several local churches — including Trinity Baptist Church, McFarlin Memorial United Methodist, Hilltop Baptist Church and Crosspointe Church — have food pantries with varying hours.
Heatly said that if residents are interested in supporting Norman Public Schools students living with chronic hunger, the Regional Food Bank and Assistance League take checks and donations earmarked directly to NPS
“A child should not be worrying about “am I going to be able to have dinner tonight?’” Heatly said.