School's new 'Food & Clothing Pantry' serves students in need
Despite a chilly start to 2018’s Day of Caring on Nov. 16, hardworking United Way volunteers were busy completing 278 day-projects across the Lowcountry.
More than 5,200 community service workers from 137 companies completed over 25,000 hours of cleaning, painting, landscaping, and other improvements at 139 different schools and nonprofits throughout the Tri-county area.
One particular Day of Caring project, a pro bono food and clothing pantry, was implemented by teachers and students at the new Philip Simmons academic campus off Clements Ferry Road.
Driving in on your right is Philip Simmons Middle, then Philip Simmons Elementary, then, around the bend to your left is Philip Simmons High: a preschool to 12th grade system all within half a mile. The new PSHS student-run Food & Clothing Pantry is an equally refreshing solution for local students and families in need.
It’s no secret that many students in underprivileged situations get their only daily meal at school. Holiday periods away from school can be especially tough. During exam or presentation times, an extra snack can mean the difference between passing and failing.
Students of all ages may not be able to complete outfits that help them fit in socially. Some students must wear the same clothes every day and may feel ashamed to come to school. When Charleston weather gets really cold, a lack of sweaters, jackets, socks, and fresh undergarments can impact a student’s life dramatically. The Philip Simmons Food & Clothing Pantry is designed to change all that, especially when a little extra food and clothing would save the day.
Teacher Dena Plummer, who led the pantry program from start to finish, explains: “Philip Simmons students will manage the pantry like a retail store, except everything is free. No money is exchanged or accepted.”
Within two months, a 30 x 60 classroom was converted to resemble a Goodwill store. The pantry will now fill to the brim with various non-perishable foodstuffs and diverse clothing styles.
Through a series of donation drives at each school on the Philip Simmons campus, both BETA and Renaissance Clubs have amassed an impressive inventory of specifically donated items from parents, families, friends, churches, and United Way-aligned corporate donors.
During normal school hours, the Philip Simmons Food & Clothing Pantry will be open to Philip Simmons Elementary, Middle, and High School. In addition, Cainhoy Elementary and Daniel Island School students are welcome. On select Saturdays, typically aligned with inclement weather and major holidays, PSHS will open its pantry to the public.
Since guidance counselors are main points of referral, they witness students’ times of social stress, family despair, or life breakdowns. So, during regular school days, donations are coordinated on an as-needed basis, typically spurred by a vetted referral from school personnel.
The nexus of the work for student volunteers will be accepting new and safe donations only, and vetting area students and families who are actually in need.
Food items should be non-perishable, in “the spirit of a healthy meal,” and easy to open or prepare. Clothing items for all ages are welcomed from head to toe –– shoes, hats, bags, jackets, fleeces, pants, dresses, ties, and blazers. Socks, undergarments, and bathing suits must be new and unworn, donated ideally in original packaging.
Other items such as casual luggage, personal hygiene, soft utensils, gloves and scarves, back-to-school supplies, breakfast foods, and basic condiments are also needed.
Turns out, nearly every household can gather a box of like-new kids or teenage clothing to donate, foodstuffs from their pantry, or in-kind purchases. Overwhelmed by the volume, speed, and quality of local generosity, the school was abuzz with dozens upon dozens of PSHS students and teachers participating in the Nov. 16 Day of Caring project.
Principal Dr. Anthony Dixon, in a written statement, promised:
“We want to make sure every student has their basic needs met in a safe and caring learning environment. We thank our Trident United Way and growing Philip Simmons community for their generous donations to our ‘Food & Clothing Pantry’ which will be accessible to all students in our area. Our student leaders at PSHS will take Iron Horse Pride in the pantry going forward, to ensure our students have their basic needs met in order to come to school every day and to learn.”
Plummer explained that the easily green-lighted project only required simple shelving and storage bins and no complex construction. United Way sponsors Valbridge Property Advisors of Mount Pleasant donated dozens of new utility shelves, airtight storage bins, and supplies worth approximately $1,200. Furnishing the Food & Clothing Pantry as a well-organized, seasonal, and sustainable program were both BETA and Renaissance Clubs’ Day of Caring goals.
Sophomore and BETA Club president Annabelle Harris, from Chicago originally, moved to Charleston from Augusta two years ago. Harris articulated how engaging this type of public service can be.
“It opens your eyes to the rest of the world,” she said. “… And helps you be thankful for all that you have…and to better understand what others might be going through.”
“People who are too ashamed to ask for help can come here, somewhat privately, to pick out things they need most,” added Hannah Pitchford, a member of both the BETA and Renaissance Clubs. “…We are all here to help other students and families or anyone in need to just feel safe and supported, so they come to school feeling better.”
Shane MacCartee, an Iron Horse sophomore and Renaissance Club member who relocated to Charleston from Washington, DC, explained, “the Food & Clothing Pantry is also open to families and siblings of students…or even their neighbors…We just want anyone in need to feel welcome and know it’s OK to ask for help.”
“This student pantry project is a reflection of the kids and the culture at Philip Simmons High School –– to whom much is given much is expected,” added PSHS Parent Teacher Association President Mary Nemeth. “Yes it’s a brand new building with all the bells and whistles, but our kids want it to be so much more than just an amazing looking school… they want the halls to be filled with love, learning, and community service. Our schools are also located between two communities. The goal of Philip Simmons is to become one family. This pantry will help those who are in need of a little boost when they might be down and out.”
For more information, or to donate, contact Dena Plummer via email at PlummerD@BCSDschools.net, or call (843) 471-2960.
Daniel Island resident Baron Christopher Hanson is the principal and lead strategist at Baron Christopher Creative & RedBaron Consulting. Hanson has written for Harvard Business Review, SmartBrief, and The Daniel Island News. Contact him at Baron@RedBaronUSA.com.