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Hope Pantry opens at Vance Middle School

The Daily Dispatch - 3/26/2022

Mar. 25—HENDERSON — Gang Free Inc. partnered with Vance County Schools and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern Carolina to open the Hope Pantry at Vance Middle School on Friday.

A total of 122 students shopped on Friday.

Children visiting the pantry will be given an amount of faux money to "spend" on goods, a feature Gang Free founder Melissa Elliott said will help students learn financial literacy. The pantry will open for students every Friday.

"That's the time the kids go home, and they don't have food," Elliott said.

On the weekend, students experiencing food insecurity may not have the same access to meals they would at school.

The pantry contains food from all five food groups according to the food pyramid. Cereals, canned beans, fresh produce, dairy products, perishables like shrimp, turkey, chicken and more. The pantry offers toiletry products like shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste and hair bonnets as well as bedding.

"Even our snacks are healthy," Elliott said. "Everything we have is healthy. We don't have anything in here that's not healthy and we don't have any candy in here. It's a full-fledged market, so we're excited to be here."

At the opening of the pantry on Friday, volunteers with Gang Free Inc. led Vance Middle students in a dance and taught them about portion control, financial literacy and gave them other tips to stay healthy, such as "Don't eat Takis," as one volunteer said.

Principal Stephanie Ayscue noted the need for a pantry for students.

"A nourished student is more able to be educated," Ayscue said.

Though the pantry is the first one Gang Free Inc. has opened in Vance schools, Elliott hopes they can expand the project to more schools in the county.

Elliott founded Gang Free Inc. in 2008 to combat recidivism as well as gang activity among youths. At a summer camp hosted by the organization in 2016, Elliott noticed that food insecurity was an issue among youth. Since the pandemic began, the organization has been primarily focused on fighting food insecurity through pop up markets, delivery of food to people in quarantine as a result of COVID and establishing an emergency food pantry.

In the last 12 months, according to Elliott, Gang Free Inc. has distributed over 495,000 pounds of food, or 412,000 meals.


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