Maya Angelou once said “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
A group of students and teachers at Washington High School in Beaufort County, a rural coastal community in Eastern North Carolina, are taking this quote to heart, and acting upon it. After noticing some of their fellow classmates needed extra help, they started a food and hygiene pantry, called the Pam Pack. The pantries include non-perishable food items, hygiene products, school supplies and clothing.
“There have been times when students come up to me in the hallways and they would ask me if I had toothpaste because they didn’t have any at home,” Principal Misty Walker said. She shared this experience with Beaufort County’s Bright Futures program, a non-profit organization that facilitates community partnerships for schools. With the help of Eagle’s Wings Food Bank and First South Bank, this pantry became a reality, focusing on supplying students with basic needs in an anonymous and private environment.
Jennifer Beach, a guidance counselor at Washington High, said teachers typically refer students to a counselor if they see a student has a need that is not being met. Counselors act as middlemen to provide those students with supplies they may need, in a private, anonymous way. “We will pull the students in and just check on them,” Beach said. “It’s starting to get around now more that there are things accessible to our students.” Students are also given discrete bags in which they keep the products. Early estimates show that roughly 10-15% of the students have used the service.
In addition to serving basic needs, the administration is noticing an increase in students’ self-esteem. Having basic needs met and building trust between the students and school administrators allows Walker and her colleagues to open a dialogue with the students. Once the conversations open up to include the students’ desires, interests, and goals, the administration can help provide assistance in other areas of their life. “For our students who have a lot of needs, sometimes they’re hesitant to let someone know what their needs are,” Walker explained. “But once they develop a relationship [with a guidance counselor or teacher] and you treat them in a professional, genuine caring manner, it helps build their self esteem.”
The pantries are kept stocked with goods raised through school food drives and donations gathered by churches. In the future, the team hopes to expand into supplying fresh produce from their very own horticulture program.
The students at Washington High School are not alone in their endeavor to help one another. In Connecticut, Stamford High Gives Back is a student-run feedback for hungry classmates organized around the motto “For Students, By Students.” Oklahoma started the Food for Kids School Pantry at Putnam City West High School and Western Heights Middle School after learning of malnourished students.
In recent years, a growing number of colleges and universities have opened food pantries and other services to meet students’ basic needs as well. More than 120 campuses had food pantries in 2014, according to the Washington Post.