GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – There are some big things happening in a small room at Jackson Elementary School in Green Bay. It’s not a classroom but a food pantry that’s making a difference for students who go there.

It was an idea born when classrooms sat empty, school counselor Tammy Van Ess said.

“Two years ago, we were in the pandemic, and we were all learning at home and working from home,” Van Ess explained.

It was during that time she realized there was a need.

“Our shelves were sort of getting stocked, and things just took off from there,” Van Ness said.

The counselor admits starting a pantry during the pandemic when there was no one inside the school was a daunting task, but she saw the need was there.

“We had three distributions in 2021,” Van Ess said. “Last school year, 2021-2022, is when we really took off.”

It’s a need that sometimes is not talked about.

“I didn’t want people to feel embarrassed or ashamed coming into school,” she told Local 5’s, Barrett Tryon.

The real magic, however, is what’s on the pantry’s shelves.

“When people look at it and say you’ve got a lot of stuff, I do. But come back in a month,” Van Ess said while showing Local 5 around.

The program runs from September to June. Van Ess said the program has already been able to help 114 families this school year.

The pantry has also turned into a teaching moment. One that Van Ess says has a “good and bad” side.

“I have to limit it to fourth and fifth graders because I have over 70 students right now who are interested (in helping),” she said.

She admits it’s not a bad problem to have, but one she certainly did not expect.

In the end, it’s a mission that goes well beyond the walls of a classroom.

“I feel that we all have a purpose. And I feel that my purpose has always been to help,” Van Ess said. “If I can help just a little bit, and I see this as such a small portion of what I can do to help our families, it just pulls at my heartstrings.”

As for what’s next? The Hunger Heroes Jaguar Den would like to launch a cookbook with recipes from students and their families to share with one another.

Van Ess said she expects the school to feed close to 300 families by the end of the school year in May.


For more information on how to donate or general information on the program, you can call Van Ess at the school at 920-492-2620 or email her at

The program is based completely on donations from the community.