DECATUR – The logic of a child is hard to argue.
“There's a state law that we have to throw out uneaten food (from school lunches),” said Heather Herron, a teacher at Durfee Magnet School. “Zanteria said, 'Why can't we give it to people who are hungry?'”
That comment, which Zanteria Smith made aloud to a classmate when she saw how much food students left untouched, gave birth to the Feed Our Friends Food Pantry.
“I just know a lot of people are hungry, and throwing out food is wasting it,” said Zanteria, a fifth-grader.
The fifth-grade classes, Herron's and Karen Walker's, banded together to create a food pantry just for Durfee families. The kids made posters and sent letters home asking for donations to stock the pantry, and Herron wrote a grant to the Illinois Education Association and National Education Association for startup costs.
“I told (students) that some kids don't have food when they go home,” Herron said.
Beginning in November, fifth-grade students, who keep the pantry organized, began creating packages to send home with kids in need. Herron asked the teachers in the building to recommend students in their classes, and those students sought written permission from their families to accept the packages.
Each contains a breakfast item, fruit, a vegetable, pasta, snack and dessert, and they're serving 20 kids a week currently, though they have many more who need the help, if they could afford to provide it.
Before the Thanksgiving and winter breaks, the students packed extra food to make sure kids had enough to tide them over the longer period.
“We need more partners,” Herron said.
With that in mind, students spent part of their day on Thursday researching community organizations and businesses that might be able to help with food or cash donations, and writing letters to them to ask for it.
Wearing a T-shirt that said, appropriately, "Shine," fifth-grader Jamaria Tennin is one of the regular volunteers who pack up the food each week and keep the pantry organized.
Some donors gave gift cards to area stores, and the students keep track of the items and let Herron know when something is running low. Jamaria said she helps because she doesn't want other people to be hungry if she can do something about it.
Mikal Sterling said he and his mother often donate to The Salvation Army.
“It just made sense to ask them,” he said.
With both parents employed by County Market, Elijah Huffman's choice was easy, too. One parent works at the one on Grand Avenue, the other at the one on Pershing Road.
“I'm going to ask them tonight,” he said. “Maybe they can get donations from their work (place).”