AMHERST – Jennifer Hines is doing her part to help combat hunger.
The resource teacher at Amherst Regional High School saw a story about a food bank that was set up last year at J.L. Ilsley High School in Halifax and had an epiphany. If it could work there, it could work here.
After several months of planning and preparation, the first food bank has opened at the Amherst high school and it is already busy. While it hasn’t really been advertised, other than by word or mouth and a Facebook message from the principal, students are already asking to use it.
“I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but the response has been overwhelming,” Hines said. “We started talking about this in the spring and thought that it made sense here. Kids are talking about hunger and if they’re talking about it then it’s an even bigger problem than we realize.” Hines said.
The food bank is located in a resource room at the school and is completely anonymous. There is no signup sheet and no one tracks who uses it. Accessing it is as simple as asking a teacher to let them into the room.
Donations of non-perishable food items have already begun flowing into the room with the River Hebert Fire Department providing the food it collected at its recent Christmas parade while parents and students who’ve heard about it have also made donations. Public Health has also made donations to the program while the Amherst Ramblers have agreed to do a food collection drive at a future hockey game.
Shelving was provided by Mount Allison University.
She is also working to make a connection with the Pay it Forward Pantry that has set up a pantry in the Rotary Centennial Park on Elmwood Drive.
Food donations can be made at the school’s office while financial contributions are also welcome. She said the biggest need is for snack foods.
Along with popular food items like canned soup, ravioli, pasta and spaghetti sauce, there is Kraft Dinner, snack foods such as granola bars, crackers and popcorn and the always popular Mr. Noodle. She has also gathered a number of toiletries such as soap and shampoo and there’s a collection of school supplies.
The room has a microwave along with forks, knives and spoons.
The program compliments the already popular breakfast program that offers cereal, toast and milk to students arriving for class in the morning and help those students who may have forgotten their lunch or don’t have enough food at home to fuel their bodies.
“The whole idea is this room is here for the students who just needs a snack to the student who has to take home food for himself or siblings,” he said. “Kids are so resilient, they get through four 75-minute classes without having anything to eat and it has to be so hard for them. Kids will say they couldn’t their homework because they were hungry. They are very forthcoming about it, it’s very humbling.”
She said the program has been well received in the school community with students volunteering to help sort the food, check expiry dates or other tasks. Staff have also gotten behind the program while others have offered to help in any way they can.
“I’m overwhelmed by the support we’ve received here. I can see this being a long-term project at the school,” she said.