Students and families at the Tulsa Epic VLC have access to a free food pantry and clothing closet right inside their school building. The project, started by Epic paraprofessional Tracy Rape, serves dozens of Epic families each year.
Rape created the Epic Food Bank because she wanted to help families in need.
“Sometimes, you just need a little bit of help, and that’s OK,” said Rape.
She said almost everyone needs help at least once in their life, and people shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.
Rape decided to start the food pantry when buying snacks with her own money wasn’t enough.
“I’d spend a lot of my money trying to buy snacks for people and kids, but that gets expensive, so I thought the bigger picture would be a food pantry,” she said.
Rape had to do training at the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma and get shelves for the food before she could get the pantry running. The food pantry opened this school year and has been very successful since then.
“There´s not a reason to be hungry, because we have the food here,” said Rape.
The food pantry serves between 18-25 families a month on both the elementary and mid-high sides. The Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma provides most of the food. Rape orders food at least once a month, and picks it up from the food bank.
Teachers and staff have also donated food to the pantry.
“They’ll ask me ‘what does the food pantry need?’ and I’ll just tell them ‘we need peanut butter, we need jelly, we need bread,’” said Rape.
Rape also prepares food boxes that families and even employees can take home over holiday breaks and weekends.
“Anybody can use the food pantry,” said Rape. “Anybody – an employee, a student, the janitor – anybody in this building can use the food pantry.”
Along with the food pantry, Rape created a clothing closet to provide more services to students and their families.
Epic staff believe the food pantry has had an impact on the students at the school. Students are able to volunteer to help with the food pantry. While helping, they have an opportunity to learn more about what some people go through and how to help them.
“They have a greater understanding of what being in need is,” said Kathie Johnson, Epic Support Specialist. “They might be in that situation one day, and then I think their volunteering makes them less likely to make fun of someone who’s receiving it.”
“It’s hard for kids to learn if they’re hungry,” said Johnson.
Editor’s note: Morgan Costa, Stephen Britt and Nathan Corn also contributed to this story.
Above, students Layla Blockcolski and Bella Buckner help stock the shelves.