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East High School students add outdoor food pantry to efforts to feed those in need

From the School Spotlight: Adventures in learning, inside and outside the classroom series
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Deagan Wiebel was checking around East High School for Eagle Scout Service Project opportunities when he discovered he could help feed hungry students and anyone who drives by the school.

Wiebel, now a sophomore, said he learned that a club at East has a mission to feed the hungry and he could help them branch out by creating a pantry available outside the school 24 hours a day. So Wiebel, a member of Troop 132, enlisted the help of others and used blueprints for a garden shed to make the food pantry, which sits outside on the North Fourth Street side of the school. It’s painted in the school colors — purple and gold — so it’s hard to miss.

“It seemed like they needed help, and I’ve worked with food drives before and I know they may not be getting a lot of attention toward their needs so I figured I should help them,” said Wiebel, who has fulfilled all the requirements to be an Eagle Scout.

“It’s a really good spot so it is just outside in the open so everyone who needs food from it knows it’s there,” he said of the pantry.

The Food Equity Club at East will host a grand opening of the student-led outdoor free food pantry at 12:05 p.m. Tuesday on the patio in front of the cafeteria along North Fourth Street.

The new pantry is stocked with canned food and will be available during the school year for any member of the Madison community.

A distinct aspect of the project is how some of the food is procured by students in a post-secondary program for students with disabilities. They also will check on the outdoor pantry as part of their daily routine.

“That provides them with real-life, functional, vocational education training,” said Helena White, club adviser and a speech and language clinician. “It helps them be able to be a really integral and important part of the East High School community.”

The project is the latest way club members are improving and increasing food accessibility for their fellow students. The club runs an open food pantry near the school’s media center, a secured storage food pantry, and a snack program in partnership with students in special education.

Students write and submit grants to organizations such as the By Youth for Youth committee, a part of United Way of Dane County, and the Madison Public Schools Foundation.

The club, which was formerly the Food for Thought Club, also gets support from Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin for some of its initiatives.

Through a partnership with Second Harvest, the Madison School District also runs a pop-up food pantry from to 2 to 3:15 p.m. Thursdays in the school’s back parking lot.

Last week, Seth Jawitz took a couple of his students to the nearby Hy-Vee grocery store to pick up items to stock the outside food pantry. They were also accompanied by Bobby Tearney, a senior at UW-Madison studying rehabilitation psychology and legal studies who is involved in the post-secondary program through an internship.

“Our goal is to have them be independent and have a job by by graduation,” said Jawitz, a cross-categorical teacher and case manager at East.

The students had a general list of what they could buy but could make some decisions like what soups would be included, Jawitz said. Among the lessons the students learned is the need to buy items in cans, not plastic, for the outside pantry because they are rodent-proof.

“It was fun today,” said Darien Dean, a post-secondary student.

He also agreed it felt good to help the food pantry.

Martin Young, also a post-secondary student, said the hardest job was pushing the cart full of all of the canned goods.

After the students got back from the store, they took inventory and divided the cans because some were destined for the inside pantry options. They also stocked the outside pantry.

Community members can contribute by writing a check and noting that it is in “care of Helena White” or that it is for the food pantry or snack program, which is a high-need area. That is the preferred way to help, White said, but community members also can bring canned items to the school. The club asks community members not to put food directly into the pantry.

Canned food should have dates that are not expired. No glass and no items that contain nuts can be accepted. Items can be dropped off at the Welcome Center, which is Door 2 on North Fourth Street.

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