Empowering students to meet the need
By Charla Irwin-Buncher
When Sheila May-Stein’s students at Perry High School thought about why their classmates were struggling, they realized that many of them lack consistent access to healthy food and basic necessities. They wanted to do something about it.
That’s when Sheila, students from the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and Jr. ROTC turned to Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. After a visit to the Food Bank, the students put together a plan for a school pantry housed in the library. They got started with support from the Food Bank. Pirates Charities provided 100 backpacks that students fill with food from the client-choice pantry. “It gives a measure of dignity to children,” says Sheila, the school librarian. “I hear them say things like, ‘I know what I’m cooking for my little brother tonight.’ Or ‘I know what I’m eating this weekend.’”
Sheila has seen the program making a difference already. It’s improved attendance for some students who know they can get food at school. The pantry has helped provide nutrition for pregnant teens. Some teachers pick up cereal bars or fruit to offer students who come to school hungry. “This school is the only comprehensive high school on the north side of an area of high poverty and low resources. Kids realize this is one of their needs that can get met at school,” says Sheila. The students are also raising money for a refrigerator to provide more fresh food, and have plans to plant a garden and bring in cooking instruction.
Thinking about the donors to the Food Bank moves Sheila to tears: “I really wish that they could be a fly on the wall and see the difference they’re making in the lives of the most disadvantaged children. The children in this building are not used to having their needs met, but they find nutritious food available at school because of these donors. They’re doing a magical, beautiful thing, for the most vulnerable among us. They’re changing the world one child at a time.”