Viking Pantry established to support Grayling High School students and their families
Staff and students at the Grayling High School send their peers home with backpacks full of items on weekends to make life more comfortable and to help make ends meet.
A group of Grayling High School staff members recently established a pantry specifically for students at the school. The Viking Pantry contains non-perishable food items, hygiene products and household necessities such as toilet paper, laundry detergent and dish soap. The pantry officially opened on Oct. 3. Students are given the opportunity to place confidential orders on a weekly basis with no questions asked.
School and community leaders started with a blitz in order to gather items to stock the pantry shelves outside of Family Fare, Family Dollar and Kmart.
“We wanted to make sure we had enough to meet the response before we officially opened,” said Teresa Bonamie, the counseling secretary at Grayling High School.
Grayling High School Principal Donna Boughner tasked the school’s Support Our Students Committee, which is made up of community representatives and staff members, to get the Grayling Viking Pantry up and running. In the past, the committee raised funds and collected items for students who had a parent pass away, experienced a house fire or were dealing with a serious illness.
“It’s not just about the pantry – it’s about supporting our students all together,” Boughner said. “We want to support them with clothing, we want to support them with gift cards, with food items – whatever they need. In times of need, we want to be able to support them.”
A room near the front offices of the school, where text books were formerly stored, was repurposed as the Viking Pantry.
At the beginning of the week, a form is sent out to students who have the option of requesting food items, hygiene products and cleaning supplies. Members of the Grayling High School’s Student Senate, who also stock the pantry shelves when products come in, fill backpacks with the items for their peers to take home.
“We’re constrained to what the backpacks will hold,” Bonamie said. “We try to get a much in their backpack as we can.”
The backpacks ensure the privacy and confidentially of the students utilizing the Viking Pantry.
“With the backpacks, you can just toss it on your back and go with it,” Bonamie said.
Since half of the students in the Crawford AuSable School District qualify for free or reduced meals, Bonamie said that families struggle with paying to heat their homes and buying medications, and go without other items.
Students at the Grayling High School may also leave their homes to go live with other family members or friends.
“Sometimes they become mobile to where they don’t necessarily have a home base, where they have the things they need,” Bonamie said.
Bonamie said around six students were receiving items from the Viking Pantry after it was first opened. That number has grown to 10 to 12 students requesting items each week, and Bonamie expects the demand to grow with the holidays approaching.
“We have seen a steady increase, and I expect that will continue to grow as the word gets out,” she said.
A food drive was held during the high school’s homecoming week, and each class competed to earn daily spirit competition points by bringing in non-perishable food items. Crawford AuSable School District Superintendent Joe Powers challenged the school’s staff by pledging his own donation if the staff beat the students in collecting pantry items. The food drive netted approximately 2,000 items for the pantry.
Individuals and businesses have also made financial donations to support the pantry to give youth a leg up. Containers to collect items for the Viking Pantry are located by the school’s front door, auditorium, gymnasium and cafeteria for easy access for students, parents and visitors entering the building to donate items.
Bonamie said the Student Senate members who help with the Viking Pantry are humbled by providing a labor of love to fellow students.
“They’ve said that they didn’t understand how things they take for granted other kids don’t have, like a toothbrush and tooth paste,” she said. “It opened their eyes to see the circumstances around them, and it makes them appreciate what they have, and they understand they’re fortunate. It makes them a little more compassionate.”
The Support Our Students Committee is also participating in the Spartan/Nash Stores’ “Direct Your Dollars” campaign. Through this program, the committee can collect $150,000 worth of eligible store receipts to earn $1,000 for the organization. Local stores participating are Family Fare locations throughout northern Michigan. Receipts can be dropped off or mailed to Grayling High School.
A Family Night at the Rialto will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12, featuring the Movie “Remember the Titans.” The movie is based on a true story about how the leadership of a few can promote teamwork, trustworthiness, respect, responsibility and citizenship in many. The event is sponsored by the Mt. Hope Lutheran Church, Michelson Memorial United Methodist Church and Grayling Free Methodist Church. There is free admission to see the movie, but donations of canned goods and packaged food are being accepted for the Viking Pantry.
Eventually, the Viking Pantry plans to have a refrigerator and freezer so they could add milk, eggs, cheese, fresh and frozen vegetables and some fruit to the items students could select to take home.
“If we had fresh produce, they could make salads and so forth and that would be great,” Bonamie said.
The Viking Pantry is another way the school and community are following the “Viking Strong” pledge to support youth.
“I love having the food available for the kids,” Boughner said.