WASD’s pantry grows; community’s support continues
Updated: Oct 1, 2019
By Katie Collins firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Katie @Lifestyles51
WALLENPAUPACK - An effort that started with hams and turkeys, has become much more than Rosemary Martynuk ever imagined.
Shocked and saddened to learn students at Wallenpaupack Area High School didn’t have food for Thanksgiving, Martynuk collected foods for the holiday and went on to establish “Our Kids’ Food Pantry” last year.
The community responded
After a January News Eagle article brought light to the struggles area children are having, the community responded wholeheartedly. This summer, nearly 3,000 lunches were served in Bingham Park through a free lunch program for anyone 18 and under, that was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That averaged to 86 lunches a day, with one day peaking at 121 according to WASD Registrar Ann Monahan. To help prepare for the new academic year, the Boat Shop collected 25 backpacks filled with food. Parishioners from the Lakeville Methodist Church responded too, by collecting foods for the students and their families that filled the church’s own pantry room. Set around the community, collection boxes have been placed and many monetary donations have been given as well.
While the support has continued, it’s a matter that isn’t an easy fix since 14 students are currently listed as homeless in the district, and 61 percent are on the free or reduced lunch list. So now, the church will house foods given by the Second Harvest Food Bank once a month. Each month, Second Harvest, which is a nonprofit that distributes foods through non-profit organizations such as the church, will deliver four large palettes filled with food to the church, which will then be distributed at the school once a week.
Immediately, Pastor Don Gilchrist said the congregation felt something had to be done because they didn’t realize the situation was so serious in “our own backyard” and from that, the efforts “just took off” with members collecting foods Martynuk sought.
Growth “takes time”
Each week, Martynuk figures she gives at least 15 to 20 bags of food and toiletries to students in the high school. Her hope, is to establish pantries in the district’s other schools once space is created and volunteers are set to maintain the in-house pantries. Martynuk expects it’ll happen within months, but growth “takes time” she said.
More than reading, writing and arithmetic
Superintendent Michael Silsby has spent his entire career, 41 years in the district, with the last 19 being superintendent. Of those years, he said it’s only been the last 10 years that the need for assistance has increased. While breakfast and lunch have been served in the district for some time, now snacks are served after school through a grant program too. Initially, educators focused on reading, writing and arithmetic he said, but it’s become much more with the district trying to work with Wayne Memorial Hospital to provide a dental clinic for students. It is these “social aspects” he said, that the school has to be involved with, otherwise the students may come to school hungry and unable to focus on their academics. Silsby commended Martynuk and her colleagues for their dedication to ensuring the pantry becomes sustainable with the help of outside resources.
Volunteers discover the need
An 87-year-old Korean War veteran, George McMullin was at the school delivering the last collection from the church recently, where he said he wasn’t aware of the need in the area because “It doesn’t look like that on the surface.” But now that he’s involved, “you find out there’s a lot of need out here.”
Andy Anderson brought the matter to the church and now with the help from Second Harvest, he said the volunteers’ work is “just beginning” since the donations will be weekly. A longtime resident of the area and a supporter of students, he believes the progress is “God’s work!”
Everyone at the school has become involved in some way Martynuk said, with students building shelving for the pantry and staff doing more in “their own way.” The response has been “overwhelming” because she simply wanted to do something special for the students for the holidays.
Toiletries are important too
Initially, some students were apprehensive when seeking Martynuk’s help, but no more. Instead, when they need something, they’ll just ask. While the food is important, so too are toiletries Martynuk said, because its obvious cleanliness is an issue for some students. So, since the collaboration with the Lakeville Methodist Church and the Second Harvest Food Bank is set, if interested in donating, Martynuk asks for drawstring bags with girl and boy toiletries.
Readying for the future
Aside from responding to the need in the community as a church, Gilchrist said it’s also something to be done “just as a human being, taking care of each other.” Although the need won’t be eliminated, considering the collection boxes in the community and partnership with Second Harvest, he expects the support to assist many who may not have otherwise received the help before. The situation, he said is happening for a reason and while the answer isn’t known quite yet, it’s obvious that kids must be fed so they can have a better life in order to “become something better in the future.”
If interested in learning more, Rosemary Martynuk can be reached at 570-226-4557 at the high school.