Sixth graders start, run food pantry

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NORWAY — A sixth-grade Guy E. Rowe Elementary School student said a gift of canned goods from his grandparents prompted an idea to start a food pantry in his own school.

“I gave it (the bag of canned goods) to my teacher who took it to her husband who brought it to a soup kitchen. That prompted in my mind that if I can help people in another town, I can help people in my own school in my own town,” Austin Fox told the SAD 17 Board of Directors at its Monday, June 20 meeting.

HELPING HANDS — Guy E. Rowe Elementary School students Delia MacDonald and Austin Fox, along with their Principal Dan Hart, explain the school food pantry to the SAD 17 Board of Selectmen at its June 20 meeting.
HELPING HANDS — Guy E. Rowe Elementary School students Delia MacDonald and Austin Fox, along with their Principal Dan Hart, explain the school food pantry to the SAD 17 Board of Selectmen at its June 20 meeting.

The presentation by Fox, Delia MacDonald and their Principal Dan Hart, followed the first year of operations for the successful elementary school food pantry.

Hart told the directors that the food pantry was the brainchild of Austin and fellow student, Marissa Rivas, another incoming sixth-grader, who had the idea to put a box of food in the front lobby at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.

At the same time, the school nurse Heidi Darling was thinking along the same lines. They all got the backing of the administration who applied to be a food pantry site.

In June 2015, the school was approved as a food pantry site and then the hard work of fundraising began.

“Austin and Marissa went to [Oxford Hills] Rotary Club. They were really the pioneers,” Hart said of the two students’ effort to start the food pantry.

With a $500 donation from the Rotary Club, another $500 from the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce, a $1,000 donation from the Good Shepard’s Food Pantry in Auburn and a promise of a $2,000 match from Hannaford, the plan was off and running.

About 10 students from the elementary school’s fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes Student Ambassador program volunteered to help with the food pantry this past school year.

Fox and MacDonald set up a special closet area near the nurse’s office where they store the food.

“So whatever comes in, it goes in  there on the shelves so it’s all sorted out and we can just pick what we need,” Fox said.

Hart said about 12 to 15 bags of food are sent home weekly on average with  students who need a little extra help. The largest amounts go home when there is a school vacation.

Hart said Ravis, who was unable to come to the meeting because of a scheduling conflict, and Fox came to the office every day to make sure everything was running smoothly.

“They’re so conscientious. They just want to make sure nothing falls through the cracks,” he said.

Hart said so far, none of the money has had to be used to put an order into the Good Shepard Food Pantry where food pantries usually buy their food because of the efforts by the Fox and Rivas to get donations.

“There’s $4,000 we haven’t touched. We know we have a good foundation for this program,” said Hart.

When asked what they have learned through this effort, Fox said, “We need to manage our time during every day to have time to go and do this.”

“It’s a great thing to do this,” said MacDonald. “It’s an opportunity to give back to other people.

In a written statement by Rivas that Hart read to the directors, she said, “It’s about the experience. It’s not an everyday experience.”

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net