Fort Worth ISD now has 19 food pantries spread across the district. Where are they?

dfwnewsa | February 18, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Fort Worth ISD now has 19 food pantries spread across the district. Where are they?

Families shop at Morningside Middle School’s grand opening of its campus pantry on Feb. 6. On the shelves are canned and boxed goods. (Matthew Sgroi | Fort Worth Report)
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Standing next to her 2-year-old son, Miguel, Morningside Middle School mom Maria Sigala held a burlap bag tight in her hand.

She and her toddler were among the first in line at the opening of the middle school’s new market. Sigala walked into the portable building just off the main campus, held Miguel’s hand and began reading each pantry item’s label, deciding if she’d bring it home. 

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“I’m here for milk, I got some detergent, some dish soap,” Sigala said in Spanish. “It’s all become really expensive.” 

Sigala and Miguel are just two of many who shopped recently at Morningside’s new market, one of 19 campus pantries the Fort Worth ISD has opened to help feed families.

“The work we are doing here is so important,” Fort Worth ISD trustee Wallace Bridges said at the market’s opening. “I challenge you to come into one of our schools and see some of the day-to-day challenges that many of our students are dealing with.”

Sigala usually shops for groceries about a mile away from the school at Family Dollar or El Rio Grande Latin Supermarket. 

Those are the only stores less than two miles from the school’s neighborhood, and they don’t always have everything Sigala needs, she said. 

“One in four of the kids at this school, but probably more because we’re sitting in a food desert, are going to bed hungry,” said Julie Butner, president and chief executive officer for the Tarrant Area Food Bank, which is helping the district run Morningside’s pantry, among others across the district.

At Morningside Middle School, 98.3% of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

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Who is considered ‘economically disadvantaged’ by the school district?

A student is defined as economically disadvantaged if he or she is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches or other public assistance.

The pantry will help Sigala and her family eat more well-balanced meals. Nothing in the pantry is what would be considered “junk food,” Sigala said. 

It will also aid her sixth grader’s education. Sigala walked out of Morningside’s pantry with a stack of white paper and pencils. Those aren’t common around the house, she said.

Around the district, households like Sigala’s are far too common, said Aracely Escareno, family engagement specialist at Fort Worth ISD’s Kirkpatrick Middle School. Some families can’t afford extra expenses like pencils and paper.

“We’ve seen our numbers go up in how many families use our pantry,” Escareno said. “They said it’s been helping them a lot, especially with prices going up.”

The pantry at Kirkpatrick was one of the district’s first, opening in May 2022. When the pantry first opened, Escareno saw 30 to 50 families arrive to shop regularly.

On Feb. 10, Kirkpatrick’s pantry served 132 families. 

“Our schools are our community centers,” Butner said. “This is where people come together. It’s a trusted source. The parents know each other and the kids know each other.” 

As Kirkpatrick’s pantry was considered a success, Escareno said, the program spread throughout the district. At many district campuses, the pantries are open to everyone in the community.

On Jan. 31, O.D. Wyatt High School in southeast Fort Worth opened its own market, this one operated by students. Not only will it feed families, the district said, but it will teach those students entrepreneurship skills. 

At O.D. Wyatt, 97% of students are considered economically disadvantaged. 

Having a pantry on that campus is part of the district’s strategy to place pantries and markets in locations with the most need.

Fort Worth ISD Pantry Locations

These markets are defined as having the following: commercial refrigeration to house fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy, and juices; and shelving to house canned and dry goods. They also must be at least one-half the size of a classroom and open at least once per week to families.

Wedgewood Middle School

Oakhurst Elementary School

O.D. Wyatt High School

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Springdale Elementary School

Versia Williams Elementary School

J.P. Elder Middle School

Kirkpatrick Middle School

Carter Park Elementary School

M.H. Moore Elementary School

C.C. Moss Elementary School

Maudrie M. Walton Elementary School

Alice Contreras Elementary School

Daggett Middle School

Eastern Hills Elementary School

William James Middle School

Morningside Middle School

Van Zandt Guinn Elementary School

Hubbard Heights Elementary School

Maude Logan Elementary School

“We believe in removing all barriers for our families,” said Morningside Middle School family engagement specialist Marcus Cook. “When we have barriers in the way, our parents can’t do what they need to do.”

Throughout the district, pantries are located in poorer neighborhoods — often those that lack health resources and grocery stores.

At Kirkpatrick, where 97.7% of students are considered economically disadvantaged, it’s common for them to bring no lunch, Escareno said. 

“When they’re testing, they can’t concentrate when they’re hungry,” Escareno said. “If they need a granola bar, we give it to them now.”

Morningside Middle School is excited to have that same ability, Cook said. 

At the market’s opening, close to 30 families walked down the pantry’s narrow aisles. Soon, 100 families may be lined up outside its doors.

Sigala will still be there, for sure. 

“Sin duda,” Sigala said. Without a doubt.

Matthew Sgroi is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org or @MatthewSgroi1 on X, formerly known as Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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