New food pantry to serve Merrimack Valley students

  • Merrimack Valley School Board member Tracy Bricchi passes a bag of tortilla chips to Concord City Councilor Stacey Brown as council members Erle Pierce and Byron Champlin look on as Bricchi shows off the new food pantry at the Merrimack Valley Learning Center on Washington Street on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • New Hampshire Food Bank Executive Director Eileen Liponis was at the opening of the Merrimack Valley Learning Center Food Bank on Tuesday, September 12, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/13/2023 2:27:32 PM

In a closet at the Merrimack Valley Learning Center, teachers used to stock food items for students to bring home to their parents. The makeshift pantry was an acknowledgment from staff that several students and their families were living with food insecurity. 

Through a partnership with New Hampshire Food Bank, the ad-hoc pantry has become official, offering fresh and non-perishable items for students and families of both Merrimack Valley Learning Center, and CSI Charter School. 

“As a staff we would bring food items in to store in a closet for the students to take home for their families. We often received phone calls from parents that greatly appreciated it and didn't hesitate to reach out when they needed more,” said Ken Fuller, the principal at Merrimack Valley Learning Center, an alternative school for middle and high schoolers. “This food pantry allows us the ability to continue to supply these families throughout the entire year.” 

As Fuller began to clean up a room just off the school gym used to store supplies, he noticed that the tiled floors and electrical outlets could serve a better purpose than storage space for forgotten items. Now equipped with a refrigerator, freezer and three storage shelves, the space is home to the school’s food pantry. 

In the fridge, fresh vegetables, salad kits and eggs are available. Oats, pasta, rice, pancake mix and milk line the pantry shelves. When students come to the pantry, they can leave with a full meal that has all the ingredients, said Tracy Bricchi, the Penacook representative on the Merrimack Valley school board. 

“A lot of times what will happen is if they get boxed macaroni and cheese, if families didn't have milk at home then what would they do? They’d make it with water. That would be terrible,” she said. 

Bricchi knows the needs of students in the school district. For 35 years she was an educator, spending over two decades in the classroom in Merrimack Valley. As a young teacher, she never thought that there could be a catch-all reason as to why a student wasn’t paying attention in class or lashing out. Now, she realizes that oftentimes these students were just hungry. 

At the time, food insecurity wasn’t commonly talked about within schools. While working at CSI Charter School, Bricchi started a local chapter of End 68 Hours of Hunger, a national nonprofit that addresses food insecurity in schools. 

The 68 hours represents the time between a student’s last meal in school on a Friday afternoon and the next available on Monday morning. One in six households in New Hampshire are facing food insecurity, according to the New Hampshire Food Alliance from the University of New Hampshire. Most of these households have children. 

Although the local chapter has since ended, the pantry will continue the work Bricchi started years ago – bringing awareness to childhood food insecurity. 

“The more that we can bring it forward for everybody to talk about, it’ll only make things better for all the kids here," she said. 

Through the partnership with New Hampshire Food Bank, Fuller will be able to restock the pantry through an online portal. It’s like placing a grocery order, he said. 

A donation of backpacks to the school will also allow for students to bring items home.

The pantry opening coincides with Hunger Action Month, a national campaign from Feeding America each September. Throughout the state, events like the Concord Police Department’s Stuff a Cruiser drive on Sept. 15 and 23, will benefit New Hampshire Food Bank. 


Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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