“Panther Pantry”

Supporting Families in Challenging Times

There are many Angels among us, and the staff at St. John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough are living examples.

When Jill Forester, the school Chaplain, started hearing from staff about students who were not eating lunch, or who admitted that they did not have enough food at home, she sprang into action. Together with Debbie Richards-Broomfield, Child and Youth Worker and Vera Mawhinney, Attendance Secretary, they launched the Panther Pantry in the fall of 2019 with the full support of the Principal and the administrative team, custodial staff and other members of the SJPII community.

Families were asked to come forward and self-identify if they needed some assistance, and they were invited to specify their general preferences for the types of non-perishable items they would typically stock at home if they could.

“We try to tailor our shopping as much as we can to what their preferences are,” says Jill. “What I would stock in my own kitchen may not be the same as what other families might typically buy.”

It began slowly with just 10 families, but since the initiation of the first lockdown necessitated by the global pandemic, that number has grown to about 25 families, with each family receiving approximately $30 worth of groceries every week. Every little bit helps, and the participating families appreciate the outpouring of support from the school community.

The pantry is just one example of the many ways that school communities are doing what they can to help students and families during some unusual and challenging times.

“There is no specific motivation for doing this,” says Jill. “We saw a need and we wanted to help. It fits with our mandate of taking care of the community in every way possible. It’s good for families to know that we are not just teachers or staff working in a brick building.”

Funding for the Panther Pantry comes primarily from private sources. Individual donations, funding from The Angel Foundation for Learning, and donations of food items from local businesses and families who want to help have kept the initiative going. A major contribution of more than $3,000 came directly from parents of grade 12 students at the school who opted to direct their $50 refund from student fees to the Panther Pantry.

So what happens when the pandemic is over? According to Jill, “The Panther Pantry is here to stay. As long as there is a need, we will continue to help.”