School resource officer helps students with special needs avoid hunger

Reporter: Taylor Petras
Published: Updated:
Kid enjoying the food from the pantry. (Credit: WINK News)
Kid enjoying the food from the pantry. (Credit: WINK News)

At the end of each school week, many kids across the nation and here in Southwest Florida are not sure their next meal is coming from. During spring break, one school resource officer stepped up to make sure no student goes home hungry.

The SRO at Buckingham Exceptional Student Center allows kids with special needs to go shopping at a food pantry in the school. But it was not always like that. What once was an office for SRO Donna Aiossa-McNally now serves as a food pantry.

“I found after a short amount of time the shelves started getting empty very quickly and replenishing the food was challenging,” said Aiossa-McNally, who works for Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

But now, the shelves are fully stocked thanks to the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

Each week, students at Buckingham Exceptional Student Center go shopping to take home food for their families.

“Parents at home have taken pictures of the meals,” said Dr. Ruthie Lohmeyer, the principal of Buckingham Exceptional Student Center.

The pantry is crucial at Buckingham. More than 78 percent of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

“She saw a need and she filled it,” said Dori Dunham, a parent. “It’s just that simple. A lot of people see a need and then go form a committee or you know they give the idea to someone to get a grant. She just jumped on it and took care of it and before we knew it, there was a pantry in there.”

But it is much more than just grocery shopping.

“They’re building a vocabulary, they’re building vocational skills,” Dr. Lohmeyer said. “The goal of our kids is to get them to be independent.”

The students are taking the food from the pantry and learning to cook in the kitchen. In the future, the kitchen may become handicap accessible.

“Being able to put food recipes together, choosing the right things to make a recipe,” Dr. Lohmeyer said. “All things our kids are learning just from making this little food pantry. It’s been great. It’s been a great experience.”

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