NEW BLOOMFIELD, Mo. — Students in a New Bloomfield High School class have tasted how it feels to help others.
On Nov. 3, about 15 members of Megan Klukowski's Contemporary Issues course opened their own food pantry in the school's cafeteria. The class is already hungry to help more people.
"We want to keep this going for a while," senior Macey Puckett said.
The food pantry will be open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m every other Saturday, with the next four dates planned for Nov. 17, Dec. 8, Jan. 12 and Jan. 26. The students plan to continue the pantry next semester and over the summer. There are no restrictions on who can come.
"One of the reasons that we don't necessarily function like a regular food bank is that this is such a small community and everyone knows everyone," Klukowski said. "The fewer questions that we ask, the more comfortable people will be."
It was started early in the semester, when Klukowski assigned her class a tough task: Effect positive change, on a local or more large-scale level. Klukowski has had good results with the project previously. A previous class in Michigan brainstormed an event to raise awareness of the Holocaust, for example.
"I only give this assignment to classes I feel are capable of handling it and being committed to it," Klukowski said.
Members of the small class, which includes students from several grades, spent time brainstorming and carefully considering options.
"We put a whole bunch of issues up," junior Ashton Tate said.
They settled on alleviating hunger in the community and dreamed up the idea of a food pantry, held with enough frequency to become a reliable food source for hungry people in the community.
A month ago, the class shifted into hardcore planning mode.
"We broke up into groups: advertising, fundraising, scheduling, running a coin drive," junior Seara Barnard explained.
The coin drive netted more than $100 from classmates at the high school.
"People just emptied out their pockets," Tate said.
School administrators agreed to allow the class to store donated food at the school and operate the food pantry on the premises.
"This is the first time our students have done something on this scale," Principal Jeremy Davidson said. "I'm proud that the kids have taken a project-based learning idea and brought it to the community."
Junior Jasmine Gee's father works at the Dollar General warehouse and helped the class secure its biggest single donation. Dollar General sent a 53-foot trailer loaded with about $23,000 of food. Members of the basketball team pitched in on a Saturday to help unload the truck.
Class members are already planning other fundraising opportunities to help secure a steady supply of healthy food options. Donations of canned goods such as vegetables, fruits, soups and pastas are welcome.
Team members distributed flyers and hung posters to advertise the first food pantry date. In total, eight families showed up, some bringing neighbors and friends along.
"There's one family that brought maybe eight people," sophomore Jacob Lepper said.
Some of the people in line were related to students in the district, Puckett added. Certain visitors stood out in the students' memories.
"We had one pregnant girl come in who told us she needed help with baby clothes," Barnard said. "Me and Macey have taken that up. We're collecting clothes for her."
Senior Alyssa Bond vividly remembers one man who was eyeing the Butterfingers candy bars.
"He was like 'wow, I don't remember the last time I had chocolate,'" she said. "We told him to take as many as he wanted."
The students said they found the experience rewarding, though it was sobering to see the amount of need in the community.
They extended thanks to the community members who have helped the project become a reality.
"The whole community just dropped everything to help," Klukowski said.
She's proud of her students' work ethic, too.
"Students are so engaged in this process that they arrive early to school to help, they use all their free time during the day to work on aspects of the project, they stay after school to complete tasks, promote this project at their own jobs and even take their parents along in their pursuit of this goal," she added. "This is a rare moment in education."