CHARLOTTESVILLE — Senior Lexi McMahan’s teachers say she’s an exceptional teenager, more compassionate than many of her peers and keenly aware of the world around her.
It didn’t surprise them when the senior at Eastern Hancock High School stepped up to coordinate the school’s food pantry, which provides students at risk of being hungry with food to eat during the weekend when school-provided meals aren’t available.
What started as a project for the school’s service learning class last year has turned into a way for McMahan to help her peers and to make a difference in her small community.
Each week, 45 to 50 local high school and middle school students have the opportunity to visit the makeshift food pantry set up in a resource room at the school. Organizers hope by providing the service to students, they won’t need to worry about the next time those in need will eat when the dismissal bell rings Friday afternoon.
Story continues below gallery
McMahan spends many hours a week coordinating the pantry to ensure it’s filled with snacks her peers will enjoy. She’s a member of the school’s National Honor Society and helps oversee a committee charged with giving time each month to restocking if it’s needed, organizing the food and making sure it’s ready for when students visit Friday during homeroom.
Guidance counselor Jenn Lightcamp said the Hancock County Food Pantry approached the school about setting up a pantry for students, and efforts began last year. The local food pantry provides the nonperishable goods, and students are responsible for picking up the food when the school’s pantry needs to be restocked and for organizing the take-home items each week.
Additionally, student organizations have raised money for the Hancock County Food Pantry and have conducted food drives with collected food being donated to the school’s pantry. Some staff members at the school also have money taken from their paychecks and donated to the community pantry to help provide more funding to feed students and needy families throughout Hancock County.
‘See it in their reaction’
The county food pantry is in downtown Greenfield. Years ago, it started a program in local elementary schools that sent students home with a backpack full of food each week, but a similar program wasn’t being offered to older students, according to Dawn Earlywine, school pantry coordinator for the Hancock County Food Pantry.She organized the program at Eastern but relies on students and staff at the school to keep it running. The lessons the students who organize the pantry learn are invaluable, she said.
“They can help someone that might be their classmate in second period without ever knowing it,” Earlywine said. “It’s amazing what they’re doing.”
Lightcamp, who is one of the guidance counselors who shop with students each week, said she knows the food pantry makes a difference in the lives of students at Eastern Hancock. Those students wear gratitude on their faces, she said.
“They don’t always say (thank you), but I see it,” she said. “You see it in their reaction when they’re in here.”
For McMahan, it’s gratifying to be making a difference in her small school; though the process is confidential — only guidance counselors know which students utilize the pantry — her heart swells when she notices students eating the snacks she recognizes on the bus or in the classroom.
McMahan wanted to be part of the service learning course that launched the pantry, but the class didn’t fit into her schedule. Then she considered taking it over for her senior project –- a course requirement for students preparing to graduate. When the National Honor Society took over the pantry, she stepped up to lead the effort, said Kelli Brown, the organization’s adviser.
“She was going to get credit for it, and now, she’s just doing it because that’s who she is,” Brown said of McMahan.
Making a difference
She and Lightcamp agree McMahan is empathetic and loving. It doesn’t surprise them she puts so much effort into the food pantry when she could spend her senior year doing something else.“I would say Lexi is an exceptional kid,” Lightcamp said.
McMahan said she just wanted to find a cause through which she could see the impact she was making; the food pantry proved a perfect fit.
“I like to see a difference in our school,” she said. “I see it happen. … I see the impact, and I think that, a, keeps me going, and, b, it makes me feel like I did something to help others.”
The school’s guidance counselors identified about 60 students in Grades 6 through 12 who would benefit from the food pantry. About 45 of those students utilize the pantry each week.
Brown said the food pantry fills a gap.
During the week, students can eat breakfast and lunch at school; but over the weekend, the school can’t provide those meals, which might leave students hungry if there’s not much food at home.
Most of the food in the pantry doesn’t make a full meal but serves as something to eat between meals. Needy families can get ingredients to make meals at the community food pantry but might not have much snack food in the house, Brown explained; plus, most students don’t want to make a whole meal.
The students utilizing the food pantry look forward to visiting, Brown said. And administrators are happy they’re not sending students home for a weekend when there isn’t much for them to eat.
“It provides the opportunity for us to make sure they’re not hungry on Saturday,” Brown said. “School is a very safe place for a lot of students, and we want to try to provide that same safety at home if we can.”
Organizers for Eastern Hancock’s food pantry, which provides students with food to eat over the weekend, say the best way to help is to donate money to the Hancock County Food Pantry.
Each dollar donated to the food pantry buys $5 to $7 worth of food. To donate, visit hancockcountyfoodpantry.com/donate or send a check payable to Hancock County Food Pantry to 741½ State Road 9, Greenfield.
National Philanthropy Week celebrates the people who make their communities a better place to live and work. This week, the Daily Reporter pays tribute to those whose selfless acts make Hancock County a place we are proud to call home.