An Inside Look at Creating a School-based Pantry

A Guest Blog By GBFB Senior Manager of Community Initiatives Christina Peretti

What is a School-based Pantry?

To better reach struggling families in the communities they live, The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) operates free, monthly food distributions at public schools across Eastern Massachusetts called School-based Pantries.

GBFB delivers healthy food to each participating school once a month. Every family that registers brings home 40-50 pounds of nutritious food, from fresh fruits and vegetables to meats, dairy, pasta and more.

Food is arranged farmer’s market style and clients “shop” for groceries.


Why Set Up a Market at a School?

A key element of School-based Pantries is that they are open to everyone, regardless of income. The entire school community is encouraged to attend, which creates a welcoming environment. 

People who might feel uneasy about using a food pantry often feel comfortable attending a School-based Pantry since it’s in a familiar setting and organized as a healthy market available to all.


How Do You Choose Which Schools to Partner With?

When looking for new site partners, we identify communities that are not yet at Three Meals A Day (the metric we use to measure food insecurity and our impact in a given community). We compare that list with low-income student enrollment data provided by the MA Department of Education to find prospective locations. We then contact the school superintendent and pitch the program.

Over the last eight years, we’ve learned it’s important to have support throughout a school system and that it is essential to have a program champion.

GBFB Driver Sarath Chhuoy and Paul Revere Principal and Site Coordinator Barbara Kelly at the Paul Revere Innovation School in Revere, the site of one of GBFB’s School-based Pantries. Photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki

What Types of Food do Families Receive?

The three-member GBFB Community Initiatives Team determines what food items are delivered to each site. To build the order, the Team considers nutrition measurements, previous feedback from the site and GBFB inventory, then builds an order with a variety of nutritious, kid-friendly food. Each order contains dry, frozen and perishable product including lots of fresh produce.

What Happens on the Day of the Market?

Each distribution takes about three hours from start to finish. First, a GBFB truck driver delivers thousands of pounds of food to a school and unloads the pallets into a parking lot, cafeteria or gymnasium. Next, the site coordinator and volunteers organize items onto tables and pack produce into bags.

Families must pre-register for the distribution and check in when they arrive. We’ve recently expanded many of our School-based Pantries to serve families throughout the entire school district and in some cases local residents as well.

Sites are required to use Oasis, an online registration system that records how many households and individuals are served and their zip codes. Accurate participation data is crucial for measuring our impact.

When the School-based Pantry opens, families walk through the market filling up their bags with fresh, healthy food!


Why are School-based Pantries Important?

Our nine School-based Pantries are in Billerica, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Revere (two locations), Roxbury, Waltham and Weymouth and serve over 2,150 households per month.

Many of these households have children who participate in free and reduced meal programs at their schools. These families rely on School-based Pantries to help them make ends meet—especially during the summer months when school breakfast and lunch are unavailable.

One in 9 children in Eastern Massachusetts doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from. Without this vital resource, many families would not be able to get by. Read about Heba, one of the many mothers who gets much-needed nutritious food for her family from a GBFB School-based Pantry.


Christina Peretti is the senior manager of community initiatives at GBFB. Her three-person team oversees more than 70 direct distribution sites at schools, senior centers, community health care centers and community colleges all across Eastern Massachusetts. 

2 thoughts on “An Inside Look at Creating a School-based Pantry”

    1. Hi Annie. Thank you for your comment. I will forward your email address and question onto a team member to open the lines of communication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's Connect

Sign up for email and stay informed on our mission to end hunger here.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.