Photo courtesy of Laura Day.

YOU’RE NOT YOU WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY, and that can affect your ability to learn. That’s why students at The Hockaday School converted a portable classroom into a food pantry at Herbert Marcus Elementary.

The Marcus Mart opened this summer and provides nonperishable food items to students and families battling food insecurity. It’s located at the school on Northaven Road but is open to anyone in the community who is hungry.

“Our campus is truly a neighborhood campus,” assistant principal Ruth Torres says. “Our students live in the surrounding apartments, and their siblings go to Marsh or W.T. White. The goal is not to turn anybody away.”

Hockaday students started working on the pantry in April, when they heard that food insecurity was an acute problem at Marcus. About 90% of Dallas ISD students are considered food insecure, according to the district.

“You see children here who are frustrated because they’re hungry,” Torres says. “I get hangry, and our students are the same. It’s a big factor on their learning ability.”

Children need nutrients so they can concentrate on learning, not on where they’re going to get their next meal. Food-insecure students are more likely to have lower test scores and may have to repeat a grade, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.

Hockaday students stocked the pantry with items collected at school events. The Upper School amassed more than 1,000 items that were provided as admission to fine arts performances at the end of the year. The Middle School also pitched in by donating $7,000 in proceeds from its spring bazaar.

The private school is collaborating with community partners like United to Learn to obtain continuous donations so the pantry remains full throughout the year. It is primarily a source of food, but it may also have clothing, children’s books, personal hygiene products and school supplies in the future.

The goal is to use Marcus Mart as a prototype and replicate the project at other schools that need help.

“The students love it and keep asking to do more,” says Laura Day, executive director of the Institute for Social Impact at Hockaday. “The faculty loved it because it was so tangible and close. It was such a fun and enjoyable project.”

About 30 Hockaday classmates and five faculty members spent nights and weekends outfitting the portable with shelves and cabinets. Art teachers and their students brightened the space with warm, colorful lettering to make guests feel welcome.

The pantry is open Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is staffed by Hockaday students who volunteer during their lunch period.

“They’re very creative,” Marcus Elementary principal Jonatan Romero says. “I’m very grateful for The Hockaday School and the support and love they’re bringing to our community.”

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