By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
The Wee Care Little Pantry on the campus of St. Nicholas Academy in South Louisville is helping impoverished people in South Louisville stretch their food budget.
The three-foot by three-foot box sits to the rear of the school’s campus near Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. It opened over the summer and is stocked each week with about 250 non-perishable food items, such as cans of fruit and beans, granola bars, cereal and spaghetti.
It’s unlocked so individuals can take what they need any day of the week, said Debbie McMurray, a counselor at St. Nicholas who helped to implement the project.
The pantry is a collaboration between St. Nicholas, Kenwood Elementary School, 7420 Justan Ave., South Louisville Community Ministries and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
Debbie Tinker — a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel who helps with the little pantry — said her service as a volunteer at South Louisville Community Ministries has shown her the struggle of some families in the community.
South Louisville Community Ministries assists about 600 families with food and financial assistance every month, she said.
“It’s a never-ending story. We have families that continue to struggle to feed their families and take care of their basic needs,” said Tinker. “Hopefully the pantry will at least provide emergency food for families that are unable to stretch their food stamp dollars or get to Dare to Care food pantry locations.”
St. Nicholas and Kenwood students take turns keeping the little pantry stocked. The students and their families donate the food items. And the schools alternate months keeping it stocked. St. Nicholas Academy students usually stock it three times a week during their month, said McMurray.
“The students are proud of it. As they go through the carpool line they notice if it’s empty and will fill it,” said McMurray.
Students also try to stock toiletry items, such as bath soap and toilet paper. Flyers and pamphlets with information about other agencies that provide emergency assistance can also be found at the pantry, noted Tinker.
Carren Cook, a teacher at Kenwood Elementary who started the project, said it is part of the Compassionate Schools Project — a collaboration between Jefferson County Public Schools and the University of Virginia. The project aims to help students succeed by developing self–awareness and caring for others, according to
“I wanted a way for students to put compassion into action,” said Cook. The “catalyst” for the pantry was a can drive held last February to benefit South Louisville Community Ministries, she said during an interview Nov. 26.
“I knew there had to be families that had fallen through the cracks,” said Cook. “I thought we needed something that had 24-hour access and required no proof of income or proof of residency. If you’re homeless or a runaway you have no proof of residency.”
She also wanted to do something that would help those families “getting paid on Friday, but needing food on a Wednesday night to feed their family.”
St. Nicholas’ administrators “jumped on board and got involved,” said Cook. “It’s awesome that these two schools were able to form this relationship. It felt so easy,” she said.
St. Nicholas recently held a food drive to benefit St. Thomas More Church’s full-sized food pantry. The students collected close to 1,000 cans and kept 150 for the little pantry.
St. Nicholas is a regional school sponsored by St. Thomas More, Most Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sts. Simon & Jude parishes.
The sign in front of the Wee Care Little Pantry reads: “Take what you need and give what you can.”
“The idea is that those who need can take and those who have to give can do so,” said McMurray.
Tinker said she hopes the little pantry project will “help kids realize there are people struggling.”
St. Nicholas eighth-graders Anna Kisling and Kaitlyn Meiman and seventh-grader Emma Baxter said they are learning that lesson.
“It’s teaching us to be responsible and to help those around us,” said Kisling.
Meiman said she’s learned that “not everybody has the opportunity to eat well.”
“We should help those who don’t have that opportunity. I’m thankful I get to help those in need,” she said.
Baxter said everyone deserves to have meals every day.
“I’m learning to help others who aren’t getting the needs they deserve. I feel like I’m doing a good deed and helping people improve their lives,” Baxter said.
Cook said she hopes the little pantry will be sustainable and that the community will help keep it filled.
For more information or to donate to the little pantry, contact Cook at 485-8283 or McMurray at 368-8506.
The public is also welcome to leave items in the pantry.