‘Not a typical food pantry’ FVHS students, staff open school-based food resource

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Photo by Nikolai Kutsch

Stacks of donated food supplies surround Beth Fearon, who is the FVHS Student Assistance Program counselor and faculty organizer of The Den, a new food resource for FVHS students. Fearon said it was challenging to find a space to store donations for the program.

Nikolai Kutsch, News Editor

A tower of mac and cheese, Chef Boyardee cans, Mott’s fruit gummies, and ramen noodles spirals nearly halfway to the ceiling of Room 1242, amidst the offices in the Student Services department of Fuquay-Varina High School. 

Beside them, a small laundry basket is filled to the brim with colorful Food Lion shopping bags hosting those same foods, neatly knotted and ready to be claimed by students in need. 

“This is not a typical food pantry,” said Beth Fearon, Student Assistance Program (SAP) Counselor at FVHS and faculty organizer of The Den – the high school’s first on-site food resource of its kind. 

Drawing upon inspiration from nearby school food programs, such as at Willow Spring High School and Fuquay-Varina Middle School, and programs like BackPack Buddies by the Raleigh-based Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Fearon sprung to action. 

Fearon attributes the project to juniors Andrew Schneider, Brady Nathison, and Jillian Felman, who championed the establishment of a food pantry at FVHS this school year through their group Bengals Helping Bengals. “It’s all them,” said Fearon.  

“[We wondered] ‘what if there’s something that could be done at school?’” explained Felman, an organizer of Bengals Helping Bengals, as she entered her junior year at FVHS. Partnering with Fearon and FVHS Principal Terrence McCotter, Schneider, Nathison, and Felman began laying the groundwork for their project. 

Creating The Den didn’t happen overnight. “The biggest hurdle was finding a space,” said Fearon, who joined the FVHS as the school Literacy Coach in 2019 after teaching English at West Lake Middle School, moving to her present counseling role in 2021. “I had to get Mr. McCotter’s permission, but he gave it easily.”  

Program organizers settled on the small, first-floor Room 1301A for their packing space. There, a whiteboard covered in colorful notes on food inventory mirrors the shelves packed with applesauce, fruit cups, oatmeal, green beans, raisins, and more store-bought, non-perishable snacks. 

 “It’s all donation-based,” said Fearon. Food items currently in stock were largely given to the pantry by the FVHS PTSA, student families, faculty members, and the FVHS Key Club. 

The Den is a new approach to the long-existing problem of food insecurity in the area. According to Wake County, 12% of the area’s residents are food insecure, including over 37,000 children younger than 18. In the U.S., over 12 million children experience food insecurity each year – that amounts to nearly one in six children. 

“It’s not unusual for us to have a student come in that’s hungry,” said Fearon, explaining that it’s mostly up to school counselors to identify signs of hunger, such as asking what the student had for dinner the night before. “They don’t usually come in and say they’re hungry.”

The program arrived at FVHS six months into a school year of free cafeteria meals for students. “I think [free cafeteria food] helps, but it’s not enough,” said Fearon. “It’s not very much food.” 

Food packing sessions take place before and after school, based on the availability of organizers and volunteers. “If you’re in a club and need [community service] hours, you can talk to us,” explained Felman. 

Dispersed along the school’s hallways are bright orange posters announcing the program to students in need. “Come to Student Services and grab a bag to take home with you,” read the posters. “There are no questions asked, and no need to explain your situation.”

The Den provides meal bags Monday through Friday, with Friday bags containing extra food for the weekend. Additional meal support may be available for students upon request.

The program requests that donations of non-perishable food items be brought to Student Services. Students or clubs interested in volunteering with Bengals Helping Bengals should contact Beth Fearon at [email protected] or Student Services.