Acadiana families in need now have a place to shop for nutritious food for their tables as part of a new food pantry program offered by Second Harvest — their child’s neighborhood school.

The program is an extension of Second Harvest’s Backpack Program, which sends children home with snacks and quick-fix meal options for the weekends and holidays.

“While they’re out of school, we know that the kids who get the backpack are getting the food they need. Helping one child is great, but being able to help the whole family is what we really want to do,” said Terri Kaupp, communications specialist with Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana. The nonprofit food bank provides assistance to 23 parishes across south Louisiana.

So far, the school pantry program is in one school in Lafayette — Paul Breaux Middle — and one school each in Lake Charles and Opelousas, but the plan is to expand to other schools as funding allows.

“We’re targeting those schools with a high percentage of students who receive a free or reduced (price) lunch,” said Mary-Kay Rath, Second Harvest development manager.

The Paul Breaux Middle School food pantry is funded through a Feeding America grant and private donations, including a grant from Morgan Stanley and the donation of a fridge/freezer from Raising Cane’s, Kaupp said.

“The pantry is open to all parents who have children here at Paul Breaux,” said Crystal Bowie, the school’s family and consumer science teacher who’s taken on the role as pantry manager. “It’s a great opportunity to serve our students on another level.”

Her students helped set up the pantry adjacent to her classroom. Initially, a few families have used the pantry, she said, but she expects more families to benefit from the pantry as awareness about the option grows.

Shelves hold different items categorized into sections — fruits, vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates and breakfast items. Cans of red beans, canned chicken, bags of rice and pasta, tomato sauce, and microwaveable or stove top-ready bags of green peas and green beans are some of the options. Signage instructs those who visit the pantry to select set quantities from each section, such as four each of a protein and carbs. Soon, there will be an option for families to pick out frozen foods and meats.

“We want it to feel like a store. It’s empowering for them. They can choose what they want,” said Brenda Pourciau, Second Harvest agency relations manager, who acts as a liaison between the school and Second Harvest.

Bowie said she expects participation in the pantry program — which is open to anyone with students at Paul Breaux — to grow as more learn about the option because it fills a need in the school community.

“Some days at the end of the month, it gets tight. Having extra resources to get over that hump helps a lot,” Bowie said. “We have a lot of households that are in need.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.