JHS community banding together to fill food pantry, community closet

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Johnston Senior High School’s food pantry and clothing closet drive is a community effort in the truest sense of the term.

Math teacher Tia Forgetta and special education teacher Erin Ferraro have partnered with faculty and students to bring in food, clothing and toiletry donations for the pantry and closet since January 2018. The movement continues, as the team is always looking for more.

Those who may be struggling or need some assistance can fill out a sheet – more affectionately referred to as a shopping list – with what they need. Families or students can come in with a backpack, completely anonymously, and fill it with necessary supplies.

Now, the pantry/closet squad is looking to get the word out that the items are available to those who need them most. They are looking to establish a phone extension for those interested in calling, and those who want to remain even more discrete can email JHSfoodpantry@johnstonschools.org.

“Our purpose is really just to let families know that we have it so they’ll utilize it,” Forgetta said. “Last year, we didn’t have many kids really know about it. We do keep it anonymous, and I don’t know if they realize that they’re not utilizing it, the ones that we know could use it.”

The group has a few dress-down days planned, and the next will focus on collecting toiletries to stock in the pantry. The crew has also partnered with the National Honor Society in the past to hold canning fundraisers at Stop & Shop, which has produced a reserve of more than a few hundred dollars.

Forgetta said that fund is crucial so that if a family requires “something we don’t necessarily have in here, we can go purchase it for them.”

However, Forgetta emphasized that a certain collection of students play a vital role in keeping the closet in order.

“The special education kids, they have a washer and dryer in [their room], so their part is once the clothes come in, they wash them and they dry them and they’re folding them and organizing them and then putting them in here,” Forgetta said. “They have an official name for their classroom.”

They are known by two monikers – Project Success and Project Forward – but they collaborate to help make the town a better place. Six members of the class – Kenny, Elyssa, Kaylee, Katie, Kelsey and Eymi – sat down with the Sun Rise on Friday morning to discuss their greater volunteerism.

The students help the community as part of their work-based learning, yielding them a grade for their service. They start off learning “soft skills,” which include being on time and following directions, prior to venturing into real-life situations.

For example, Elyssa has worked in the cafeteria to help prepared lunches for parks and recreation summer programs, and Kaylee and Katie have helped at Walgreens stocking shelves. Kelsey touched on her work at Burlington Coat Factory.

More consistently, though, students who have cycled through the class volunteer at St. Robert Bellarmine’s Church working in the food pantry. Eymi said she helps carry food to cars, sort items and stock shelves.

While some students are Project Success and others are Project Forward, they are all on the same team. That was evident when they were asked how their volunteerism makes them feel. Elyssa and Eymi both said it makes them “happy” to help out, while Katie is “proud to be helping.”

“It makes me feel excited,” Kaylee said.

They all love coming together as one for the community, and the fruits of their efforts are on display at the JHS food pantry and clothing closet. Those interested in donating supplies can reach out to JHSfoodpantry@johnstonschools.org.

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