A hungry tummy can make learning a pain. So when Margaret Gadek floated the idea of a food shelf for students and their families at Lakeville South High School, the community liked it.
Gadek, a junior at the school, said student groups organized a successful food drive in December, and the school staff worked out the logistics to make the food shelf sustainable long-term.
Once the school sent out a mass e-mail to parents announcing the program, many pitched in to help with their time and money, said Lisa Hansen, student support specialist who's involved with the program. The aim -- to help the needy without making them feel uneasy about accepting help -- resonated with the community, Hansen said.
Since January, about two dozen families have used the food shelf. Also, about 10 students show up every week for nonperishable food items. There are no eligibility requirements, Hansen said.
"It's our way of providing another resource for our students and their families without any hoops to jump through," she said. "It's to make sure they aren't hungry and [students] are ready to learn."
The food shelf supplements the school's free lunch program, said Gadek, who has volunteered at a local food shelf and participated in several food drives.
Driving around in Lakeville may not reveal the financial strain many families are facing, the 16-year-old said. But she said she could "get a sense of the struggle from her classmates," adding that hunger is a real issue, both globally and locally.
A sense of empathy for the less fortunate and a desire to help also drew Maggie Murphy, 16, another Lakeville South junior, to the program.
Together Gadek and Murphy reached out to other students and shared ideas with church and food shelves leaders about how to organize a food shelf at the school for the Lakeville community.
Privacy, food storage and getting the word out were their biggest concerns, said Gadek, who has worked on the project since July.
"It's been a long path. None of us had built a food shelf before," she said. But when the word got out, the student and community support surprised Gadek, Murphy and their backers.
"I wouldn't have guessed [the depth of] their passion. You never know what's in somebody's heart," said Murphy, who's helped with food drives at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville. She and Gadek spend a few hours every week sorting donations and stocking the shelves.
The pair has set a good example for other students, said Neil Strader, activities director at Lakeville South. He helped put the program on track as a go-between between the principal and the students.
The school was concerned about getting enough food and the feasibility of the program over time, Strader said. But the girls' desire to serve, their determination and their ability to get other people involved in the program gradually washed away any skepticism, he said. "The burden was much lighter with two lightning bolt kids."
The program affords privacy to both parents and students by offering to pack the food in backpacks instead of grocery bags, Hansen said. It makes many people feel more comfortable seeking help, she said.
But Tessie Angulo doesn't feel awkward. "There's a lot of families needing help," she said.
Angulo, who's recovering from surgery and is unemployed, visited the food shelf last week with her son, a junior at Lakeville South. "I've no income right now," she said. She plans to continue using the school food shelf until she finds work again.
"They have no conditions, and they offer healthy foods kids can eat," she said. "It's a great program."
Thanks to the financial support from many school families, the food shelf is also able to offer $25 gift cards for Cub Foods, Hansen said. Plans include expanding the food shelf to other schools in the district and keeping it student-driven. The program will help build relationships, Hansen said. "We are making sure families know about it."
For more information, call Lisa Hansen at 952-232-3333 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pratik Joshi is a Twin Cities freelance writer