In 2008, the nation’s economy had fallen into a recession and people needed help after losing their jobs or taking a cut in pay.
Food pantries were reporting a spike in people asking for help.
Beth Bryant, director of Center Grove’s Alternative Academy, wanted to help.
She found a way to help that also gets her students out into the trenches of service, helping families in their school district who need extra help.
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This month, the CARE Pantry will have served the residents of Johnson County for seven years.
Since its opening, the students have served more than 22,000 people in more than 6,000 families.
Dozens of students enrolled in the school district’s alternative academy have stocked the shelves, helped families pick out food and delivered it to their vehicles.
“We wondered what we could do for families immediately,” Bryant said. “If we had the resources, (a food pantry) is what we wanted to do.”
The resources came quickly.
Organizers based their food pantry in the former Maple Grove Elementary School building, steps away from Center Grove High School. The workforce was found in alternative school students who were already volunteering at Midwest Food Bank in Indianapolis. Food was delivered from Gleaners and Midwest.
Through the years, the pantry has evolved. Once more food and monetary donations came in, pantry workers could allow clients to shop through the pantry like they would a grocery store, rather than be given a prepackaged box of goods.
“Now we can have them walk through the pantry a little bit,” she said. “It’s important to have choice and not say ‘Here you go.’”
A charity tracker allowed the students and Bryant to track who has gotten help in other places and what other resources a struggling family could turn to.
The economy has improved, and additional food pantries, including mobile pantries, have reduced the demand on the CARE Pantry. An average of five fewer families come looking for food a week as compared to years earlier.
“My hope is that the need isn’t as great and that people are getting on their feet,” she said.
The high school’s student government went trick-or-treating for canned and nonperishable goods on Halloween to stock the pantry. A Girl Scout troop has sold lemonade and donated the proceeds to the food pantry. Elementary school classrooms have penny wars to raise money for food.
One of the primary reasons the pantry exists is to allow alternative school students to give back and help in their local community.
“For me, you are helping people, and maybe one day you are in that situation,” said Yuriy Clements, a senior at the alternative academy.