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Hillsdale High School program feeds families in need | Local News

Hillsdale High School recently celebrated the second year of volunteer efforts to offer and deliver free weekly groceries to 140 student families in need through the Hillsdale Peace Pantry Emergency Food Drive Through.

“Peace Pantry really empowers us as educators and volunteers to feel like we can do something for our students,” said Rachel Lauderdale, a volunteer and teacher at Hillsdale High School.

Every Friday, Hillsdale High School hosts a food pantry drive-thru for 140 Hillsdale High School and Bridge School families while some volunteers drive food to homes. The emergency food drive began in May 2020 to help families struggling during the pandemic. Hillsdale partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank in January 2020 to provide three boxes of food each week to families, which includes fruit, vegetables, nonperishable food, eggs, dairy and meat. The school has also partnered with Mi Rancho Market for additional food and Transfiguration Episcopal Church in San Mateo for homemade baked bread, cookies and desserts.

Volunteers usually arrive around 7 am and unload food boxes, with the emergency drive-thru opening at 8 am and 16 volunteer drivers delivering food to families. School staff, alumni and parents form the volunteer core for the program. Volunteer drivers help deliver to families who rely on public transportation and can’t carry several boxes of groceries or families who work and can’t pick up deliveries Friday morning. Around 60% of families receive deliveries and 40% use the drive-thru.

Since the beginning of the program, Lauderdale has been a volunteer and now organizes the delivery drivers. Her job often involves keeping track of a family’s living situation and coordinating deliveries. She delivers after teaching on Friday and during breaks and sometimes sees her own students. She noted many family issues existed before the pandemic, with COVID-19 exposing some of the area’s inequalities. She said it is discouraging to see the disparity levels in the cost of living but finds the program empowering and helps her do something tangible to help her community.

“It’s been really valuable and quite soul-fulfilling for me as an educator,” Lauderdale said.

The Peace Pantry Emergency Drive Through celebrated its second anniversary May 13 with a 7 am recognition ceremony for volunteers. The Peace Pantry first opened in May 2019 to serve 25 families. Brett Stevenson, Hillsdale High School assistant principal, is in charge of the program for the school and has helped organize it since it started. He has seen a rising problem of food insecurity and cost of living issues for families in the area. Stevenson said the Peace Pantry went from supporting 40 families to 120 families at the start of the pandemic, with growing demand. Even with many people now back to work, families struggle with rising food, gas and rent costs. Stevenson said many families struggle with finding affordable housing, with a particular rise in need in the last five to seven years.

“The demand is still there. We interview our families twice a year to see if there is still a need and there is a growing need. We have a waiting list of families that we need to be able to support, ”Stevenson said. “Being able to offer this has been a major level of support for families.”

Gari Patton, a volunteer and lead baker from Transfiguration Episcopal Church, said she and several people in the church’s baking club deliver baked goods each Friday for families. The goods range from sourdough bread to cookies and muffins. While the group cannot bake for 140 families, they do their best to provide food for as many families as possible. Her children went to Hillsdale High School, and she was surprised by the number of families in need in 2020 and still need help now.

“I’m happy to be part of something really worthwhile, and I’m excited that Hillsdale has set up this program,” Patton said.

Stevenson said everyone plans to continue volunteer efforts to address the growing and constant need. The school has raised more than $ 300,000 since March 2020 to purchase a bag of groceries and essential items every other week to supplement what it receives from Second Harvest Food Bank. Peace Pantry volunteers also recently installed an irrigation system for its upcoming Hillsdale community garden. The space will consist of 18 garden boxes, a citrus grove, fruit trees and a pollinator garden. The garden will provide fruit and vegetables to the families every week. Stevenson praised everyone involved in the program for giving their time and taking action to make the program possible.

“It’s a pretty special community, and I think there’s something to be said for caring at a level beyond just saying that we care,” Stevenson said. “When you take the next step and pick up a week’s worth of groceries to a family, that is community.”

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