FREE, REDUCED-PRICE MEALS BY THE NUMBERS
Percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals at Clark County's three largest districts:
Battle Ground Public Schools
Battle Ground High School: 37.9 percent/753 students
Prairie High School: 27.6 percent/367 students
Summit View High School: 45.9 percent/196 students
CAM: 11.4 percent/53 students
Evergreen Public Schools
Evergreen High School: 49.9 percent/915 students
Heritage High School: 50.9 percent/1,031 students
Legacy High School: 49.6 percent/118 students
Mountain View High School: 35.6 percent/651 students
Union High School: 28.3 percent/593 students
Vancouver Public Schools
Columbia River High School: 24.6 percent/317 students
Fort Vancouver High School: 72.9 percent/970 students
Hudson’s Bay High School: 60.6 percent/808 students
Skyview High School: 27.8 percent/522 students
Vancouver School of Arts and Academics: 21.3 percent/122 students
Vancouver Alternative Programs: 48.4 percent/15 students
How to donate
Skyview Care Closet: Donate at the school office
Evergreen Public Schools: Donate at high schools or through the foundation.
Skyview Care Closet
Items can be dropped off in the school office, 1300 N.W. 139th St.
Refried, black, baked, pinto beans
Canned tuna, chicken, beef
Canned fruit, veggies
Instant potatoes, stuffing
Pancake, muffin, corn bread mixes
It's hard to concentrate on school work when you're hungry.
An astounding 9,000 high school students in Clark County qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch at school. Many don't have enough food for dinner, weekends or long school breaks.
Gillian Chalcroft was one of them.
Chalcroft, 19, a senior at Legacy High School, says getting food from the school's new food pantry "has made things so much easier. That wiggle room is enough so we're not struggling all the time. It makes things a lot less complicated," she said. "Now I can focus on school."
Clark County's high schools are filled with Gillian Chalcrofts. Even in schools that are considered affluent, the need is great.
If there's any good news in this, it's that high schools have recognized the trend of hungry students and are setting up food pantries.
Monday morning, Skyview High School opened its food and clothing pantry, called the Skyview Care Closet. Although the Salmon Creek school is perceived to serve an affluent population, in reality, 522 students — 27 percent of its 1,921-member student body — qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced-priced school breakfast and lunch.
"There's a huge difference between the haves and have-nots," said Skyview teacher Stephanie McGarvie, who advises the school's Be the Change Club.
The club worked with the Diversity Committee and Life Skills students to establish the closet. Monday's ribbon-cutting ceremony launched a fill-the-closet drive. The Be the Change Club will keep the pantry full. The Life Skills students will learn leadership and employment skills by running supply drives, filling orders and conducting day-to-day operations, said teacher Amy Young. Students can access food, school supplies, toiletries and gently used clothing anonymously. The public can drop off donations at the school.
"We have our space," said Principal Kym Tyelyn-Carlson. "Now we'll work together to fill the closet."
Three years ago, Chalcroft's world imploded when her family was evicted from the house they'd rented for 13 years. Money had already been tight. Sometimes they'd go a week or two without water or electricity. Feeding the family of seven — Chalcroft has four brothers — required lots of food. Chalcroft and her brothers often skipped school.
The eviction tore apart the family. Chalcroft ended up moving in with her best friend's family. Although they, too, struggle to make ends meet, it's a more stable environment. Her friend's mother, Betty, has become a second mom to Chalcroft.
At school, Chalcroft eats breakfast and lunch. But before the school pantry opened last fall, having enough food for dinners and school breaks was challenging. Once a week, Chalcroft visits the food pantry to stock the kitchen. Now Betty supplements her own food to make a good dinner every night. And Chalcroft even gets a snack — canned peaches, a granola bar or crackers — from the school's pantry.
"I'm not stressing about what's for dinner anymore," Chalcroft said.
About once a month, she visits the pantry and delivers food to her mom and brother, who live in a motel.
"They were living on Top Ramen," Chalcroft said.
"Everybody looks nice, but the need is staggering," Natalie Delargy of the Evergreen School District Foundation said. "We have kids living in their cars, yet still showing up at school every day. They're doing whatever they can to get by. You might have a school with a low free and reduced lunch rate, but for the kids who are without, it's still a 100 percent need of life or death for them."
In the past year, the district has opened food pantries in all five of its high schools, said Delargy, a volunteer who coordinates the pantries. These pantries have served more than 500 students and family members and are available to anyone living in the district.
Last fall, Mountain View High School opened "Mandy's Pantry" to honor 2012 graduate Mandy Latham, who ran one of the school's largest food drives in its history. Latham died in a car accident last summer.
Ongoing support is provided by The Pantry Project, a program of the Evergreen School District Foundation, which works with Share and other community organizations to distribute food and toiletries to the students in need at the district's high schools. The foundation purchases needed items. Delargy said cash donations allow the foundation to stock the most-needed items.
Student volunteers run food drives, check expiration dates and inventory, and deliver bags of food. Students can use an order form to request certain items and can receive the food anonymously, in the counselor's office or under a teacher's desk,for example.
Teens borrow laundry soap from the pantry to do their laundry, and bring it back the next day so another kid can do laundry.
"I've seen teens cry because they received deodorant," Delargy said.
During spring break, students will have nine consecutive days away from school. That's a lot of missed meals. Delargy and the pantry volunteers will fill food bags to feed students such as Chalcroft.
For almost two years, Chalcroft has studied dental hygiene at the Clark County Skills Center. But recently, she's decided she wants to be a social worker so she can help people, and maybe even serve in the Peace Corps.
"I believe in paying it forward," she said.
Her advice to hungry kids is to take advantage of the school pantry.
"There's nothing to be embarrassed about," she said. "No one thinks less of you if you use the pantry. We all just want to graduate."
When Chalcroft graduates in June, she'll be the first of her siblings to collect a diploma. She credits Legacy's food pantry as one of the kindnesses that smoothed the rocky path to her success.