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Month of a Million Meals: Fresh food pantries at schools combat food insecurity

Hoover Market food pantry at Hoover High School
Posted at 12:14 PM, Nov 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-28 20:52:00-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — 10News' Month of a Million Meals campaign for 2023 is officially underway! Every year, our newsroom partners with Feeding San Diego for this crucial fundraising drive.

Schools are among the pillars of the community that benefit from the drive. Of course, feeding the mind is mission #1 for educators, but filling stomachs is a major key for fueling the brain.

Hoover High School in City Heights is one of about 40 schools in the county with a pantry that offers fresh produce and other foods to those on campus.

10News reporter Ryan Hill went to the school to see the pantry's process. When the tarps come off a fresh shipment, it means the Hoover Market is open, ready to feed students.

Carissa Casares, the senior communications manager for Feeding San Diego, says the School Pantry Program provides fresh and healthy produce and other food items to people in need on campuses twice a month.

Kristiana Riego De Dios, a community schools teacher coach at Hoover High, says it's clear the pantry is helping families.

"It brings joy to seeing our students and our families really getting maybe some of the food that they really need," says Riego De Dios.

"We are bringing the food to the place where the people need it. So we are eliminating barriers to access," Casares says. 

This program is personal for Hoover High senior April Varela.

"This whole point of why I wanted to participate is to build community resilience and help those who need it, or just stressed parents, because I have a mom that's just raising me, so I understand how it feels," Varela says.

Jason Babineau, the senior director of community schools for the San Diego Unified School District, says food, especially healthy food, was a need for the Hoover High community.

"The fact that they are able to take ownership of what they're putting into their body... The fact that they're able to bring this food home to their families is something that's a necessity and is often taken for granted," says Babineau.

"The whole point of this program is to kind of get rid of the stereotype of getting resources," says Varela.

Getting rid of those stereotypes around a helping hand is important for fellow student Mahal Glenn.

"We're here and we understand there are people in need of food. You don't have to, like, feel judged or anything about it. We would rather have you be here for food instead of starving," says Glenn, who is also a senior at Hoover High.

The food's not just for nourishing the body, but also the mind.

Students in the culinary arts program, like Bryan Aguilera, hit up the market as a part of their class; they'll take the ingredients from Hoover Market and learn how to whip up recipes with them.

"It's pretty cool because we get to go out and see the people support us and we get to see new ingredients," says Bryan Aguliera, another Hoover High senior. "Every time we go there's always something new. And I'm happy that we come back and create magic out of that."

The market's magic is being felt by all of the Hoover Cardinals.

"There's someone that has our back, and it's good to be in a community like that," Aguliera says.

Feeding San Diego says school pantries like the Hoover Market are open for the community to access as well.

"For our community to really be a part of what this is incredibly important. They are a part of our students' experiences," Babineau says.

"This whole program has helped me open my eyes more. And it feels good to help those who actually need it," says Varela.

Feeding San Diego says it's working to expand this pivotal program.

"And we do have a waiting list. We have more schools that want to do this, and it's not possible at the moment," says Casares. "Nonprofits have been on a ride since the pandemic. Funding was way up. Now, funding has really dropped dramatically."

"We are hopeful that organizations like Feeding San Diego continue to get the support that they need to be able to provide this access for our students," Babineau says.

There are more than 80,000 children living in San Diego County who are at risk of facing hunger.

You can help San Diego students focus on their studies instead of where their next meal is coming from with our Month of a Million Meals campaign.

Follow this link to make a donation today.