Stamford High sophomores help nourish hungry classmates

STAMFORD — It was a big day for Nikhil Rao, Scott Krupa and Katherine Reiter. The three sophomores stood in a storage room this week on Stamford High School’s first floor, surveying bookshelves stocked with canned food and school supplies. It was the first day of operation for their anonymous food bank.

Krupa pulled a small fabric backpack out from a tray to show a pair of reporters its contents. One by one, he removed packages of oatmeal and breakfast cereal, soup and canned vegetables, and several blue boxes of pasta. At the bottom was a single-subject notebook and a case with pens and pencils.

“We decided to get the basics,” he said. “This is the first distribution. This is really the beginning of what it will become.”

The food bank, run by student group SHS Gives Back, is an effort to reduce chronic hunger among fellow pupils.

While students can eat breakfast or lunch at the school, for some, those are their only meals. Under the SHS Gives Back program, those identified by the school administration as routinely hungry are given one of the small backpacks. They can return the backpack at any time to receive more food to get them through nights and weekends.

“There are kids I know personally (who are chronically hungry),” Krupa said. “It affects their grades. It affects their ability to be physically active.”

Rao said the group arose as a response to the scale of the problem.

“We realized that more and more and more kids needed this,” he said.

Hunger and access to food is an issue beyond Stamford’s flagship school.

In a city with an average household income of roughly $121,000, over half of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

At Stamford High, Dean of Students Michelle Malave has been responsible for identifying students in need. Half of the school’s roughly 1,700 students receive free or reduced-price food. Malave, focusing on those who appeared to be regularly hungry, initially compiled a list of about 50 students. Many of them, however, have been hesitant to sign up.

That hesitancy is part of the reason that the club insists on anonymity. Neither Krupa, nor Rau, nor Reiter know the names of the students whose bags they’re packing with food. Each backpack is known only by a number.

“We are still their peers,” Krupa said. “We don’t need to know who they are.”

Reiter has been responsible for stocking the shelves. The food and supplies on hand on Thursday were a mixture of donations and food purchased at a discount from the local Shop Rite.

“It saved us, like, $1,000,” she said of the discount.

Still, the hope is to make the food bank self-sustaining. Rao said he’s hoping to start receiving donations from the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County soon.