NewsPolk County


T.A.S.S.E.L. project opens food pantry to help Polk students and families in need

Posted at 6:43 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 18:43:52-04

Polk County Public Schools T.A.S.S.E.L. project began back in 2016 to help students overcome barriers keeping them from attending school, including the lack of school supplies, clothing and hygiene products.

“Any student that shows a need to our staff. So, either the school social worker, school psychologists, any of our support staff. If they show a need, we’re able to assist them,” said Shannon Gillespie, Senior Manager of Social Work Services for Polk County Public Schools.

Gillespie, the founder of T.A.S.S.E.L., said the acronym means Teamwork Achieves Student Success and Encourages Learning.

T.A.S.S.E.L. is taking it a step further by recently teaming up with Feeding Tampa Bay to open a food pantry. Feeding Tampa Bay said the pandemic and now inflation has made the need even greater.

“It typically takes a family 5-10 years to really fully recover from the financial impact. That's part of why we’re so excited about partnering with someone like T.A.S.S.E.L. because they’ll be able to hold those families' hands as they work through this crisis and move into a moment of stability,” said Clarissa Rain Community Programs Manager for Feeding Tampa Bay.

Boxes of food are delivered to students’ homes. Each box also includes information on how families can apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Social workers told ABC Action News, students having access to nutritious food, plays an important role in their academic success.

“When you think about a child coming to school and learning, when they don’t come with a nutritious meal in their bellies, they’re struggling and not able to think properly,” Gillespie said.

Last year T.A.S.S.E.L. provided assistance to nearly 3,000 families. As the price of groceries continues to rise, T.A.S.S.E.L. expects that number to double.

“Food is a need, and we have to be able to support our families through small ways and food is definitely one of those,” Gillespie said.