Jadyn Bellander, 18, of Jefferson City, Montana, a senior at Jefferson High School, established a food pantry at her high school that provides weekend food to the families of 28 students who rely on free or discounted hot lunches on school days for a substantial part of their weekly nutritional needs. Jadyn used to help pack bags of food with a program for elementary school kids in need, and then realized that they lost this essential support once they entered high school, which is in session only four days a week in her district. “Many of these students went hungry over the long weekend,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine how they could possibly focus in school if they were [malnourished].” She proposed the idea of creating a food pantry at the high-school level to her school district’s superintendent and school board, and then persuaded a local food bank to help get it started.
Jadyn began preparing bags of food and delivering them to students every other Thursday. When her initial supply of food ran low, she started a county-wide food drive. To do that, she appealed for donations through a newspaper article, a radio advertisement and promotional fliers, and asked businesses and organizations to host collection boxes. The local library system also agreed to participate by accepting food donations in lieu of overdue fines for one month. Once her drive had yielded enough food to last until the end of the school year, Jadyn devoted all of her free time to keeping her pantry organized, packing food bags and making discreet deliveries to students. An entire class at her school has now taken on Jadyn’s “Panther Pantry” project, making it likely that it will continue well beyond Jadyn’s time at the school.