Express Scripts and Operation Food Search team to get children ready for school

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FERGUSON - Most back-to-school events in St. Louis this week focus on filling backpacks, but an event in Ferguson Monday was all about filling stomachs.

Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, teamed up with Express Scripts, Operation Food Search and other local non-profits for a "pop-up" food pantry. The event was held at the Emerson Family YMCA.

"As kids get ready to go back let's make sure they have full bellies along with their full backpacks so they can really be ready to learn when the school year starts," Walker said.

"It's a great responsibility, but we do the things that we have to," said Edellya Daniels, a Ferguson mother preparing to send two kids back to school.

Daniels learned about the pantry when she attended a Sunday back-to-school event at the Y.

"They gave us a few things, spaghetti, some corn, bread, apples, fruit, so they basically went across all the food groups," Daniels said.

Organizers filled up 950 meal kits for parents like Daniels. Operation Food Search Research and Advocacy Director Trina Ragain said the pantry raises the awareness of a "summer slide."

Out of every 10 children receiving free and reduced-price lunch and breakfast at school in the St. Louis area, only one has regular access to nutritious meals in the summer, according to Ragain.

"They are returning to school lagging behind their peers who are well-fed in the summer," Ragain said. "So, this is a huge issue that has to do not only with filling bellies but also helping with brain development and learning."

The families receiving the kits are just as grateful for corn and quinoa as they are for mac-and-cheese and spaghetti-O's.

"I'm very grateful, anyone has the choice of doing something positive," Daniels said. "But there's a difference in actually doing it, applying yourself." ​

Operation Food Search plans to organize several more pop-up pantries throughout the area throughout the rest of the school year.