Students helping studentsSchool food shelf strives to put an end to teen hunger
By: Caroline Roers, Echo Press Intern, Alexandria Echo Press
Forty-eight million people are starving in the U.S., 13 million of which are children. This means that one in every six children goes to bed hungry.
Though many groups are coming together to help stop hunger in the world, there is no specific group that caters specifically to hungry teens.
"There are some programs out there for students, but most are elementary school based," noted Chris Kragenbring, a teacher at Jefferson High School (JHS) in Alexandria. "But just because a kid transferred out of elementary school and middle school doesn't mean their family just got food all of a sudden."
Many JHS students who receive free or reduced lunches come to school hungry because the only food they receive each day are the two meals at school.
"The local food shelf is a great resource, but usually the kids are in school when the food shelf is open and some have no means to get there," Kragenbring said.
A new group of students is hoping to end the problem with the newly created JHS food shelf. What makes this group unique is that it is run entirely by students.
"We want to give hungry students hope that people out there will help them out," noted JHS student Ledondra Bennet.
Bennet is part of Kragenbring's On Track class. Throughout the year, these students do service projects such as helping at the United Way food drive and at a book sale.
But as March rolled around last spring, the students, who had exceeded fundraising expectations, were still energized to help.
"They brainstormed ideas and decided they wanted to help students by creating a food shelf that is specifically geared toward teens," Kragenbring said.
With only a few months remaining before the end of the school year, the students vigorously wrote grant requests and talked to service organizations to raise funds for the program.
Two Alexandria businesses contributing to the cause were Elden's Fresh Foods and Pete's County Market
After a few months of hard work, the JHS Food Shelf was launched in May. That month, 10 students each received a bag of food every Friday for four weeks.
"If students need food they don't want their peers to know, so the food shelf is very private," Kragenbring noted. "Guidance counselors bring students who need food into the closet where the food is kept to get a bag."
The bags contain enough food for a few meals, such as macaroni and cheese, rice and broccoli and cereal.
"We shop for the food on Friday and then the special needs students help us pack the bags," Bennet noted. "We wanted to get them involved as well and for them to feel like they could help."
In addition to food, the food shelf also gives out necessities - anything from toilet paper to shampoo - items that most people take for granted.
According to Kragenbring, it's the students who run the food shelf that make it such a great project.
"The On Track combination course is for students who are struggling academically for a variety of reasons. Some work full time while others may be the first in their family to graduate," she explained. "Almost two thirds of them are on the free or reduced lunch plan."
Even with these restrictions, the students were eager to help others.
"They can relate to the kids who don't have food and know what they are going through and they want to help them," Kragenbring added. "Many of the kids even collected food at the food drops that they were working at. They really opened my eyes to how little some teens have."
She was first exposed to this when fellow JHS teacher Jeanne Reed started an angel tree at her church so the students in Kragenbring's On Track class could be given presents for Christmas.
What Kragenbring wasn't expecting is that the students weren't asking for things other teens would have asked for, like video games and movies. Instead, most asked for toilet paper and school supplies.
"Many of the things they asked for they just couldn't afford," she said.
It was students like these who put forward their time and effort to make other students' lives better by starting the JHS food shelf.
"These kids go to school, work full time and pay the bills for the family," Kragenbring said. "And yet, they are still willing to help."
One of the students said she loves volunteering because even though she doesn't have any money, she has time to give.
"When we first came into the class and started volunteering, our eyes were opened to the poverty and we started to want to make the world a better place," Bennet noted. "We learned a lot, not just about school, but also about life."
STUDENTS SEEK HELP
Though the Jefferson High School (JHS) food shelf has support from many organizations, it needs more.
"We are shooting to provide food and toiletries for 15 kids this next year and we need help," said Chris Kragenbring, JHS teacher. "Our needs lie in toiletries, such as toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner."
Organizers are hoping churches and youth groups will help, but they are also looking to the general public for help.
Donations can be brought to Jefferson High School; checks should be made out to District 206 with "JHS Food Shelf" in the memo line.
"The food shelf at Jefferson is almost the way we want it," said Ledondra Benne, student organizer. "Hopefully this next group of people will take it and expand, especially because we have an entirely new group of students who need help."