Not content to stand on the sidelines and see what other people are doing to help the homeless in the community, three leadership students at Decatur High School are doing something about it themselves.
Now seniors Marmar Greene and Dahvae Turner and junior Ruby Edwards, all students in Heather Oliver’s leadership class, are well on their way to creating a food and supply pantry at Decatur High School so students who don’t have homes or are facing tremendous hardship outside of school have a place to get immediate assistance during the day.
Their mission, however, did not happen overnight.
The food pantry, once it opens, which Edwards anticipates will be sometime in mid-January, will be the culmination of a lot of work that actually started in Oliver’s leadership class last year on proposal day, where students shared ideas for projects they felt would make a difference either in the community or at the school.
Greene, Turner and Edwards were all interested in homelessness and raising awareness about the problem.
Greene’s interest in the problem started at Decatur because she had friends who were homeless.
“It really impacted me,” she said. “I felt helpless for them, you know, seeing a need and knowing nothing was in place to help.”
Turner’s introduction to the subject came out of necessity; he needed a topic upon which to build a proposal for class — the next day. As he was exploring different ideas, he discovered that not only is homelessness a problem, there are many contributing factors leading to it, and many challenges homeless people face.
“The whole idea of homeless awareness is a very broad topic,” Turner said, adding a lot of other people, like himself, are only aware of the problem on the surface but don’t know a lot about who is affected or why or what services are available to help them.
Edwards, however, became interested in issues surrounding the homeless at home with her mother, Sharry Edwards, who is a co-chair for the city’s Homeless Mothers and Children Initiative and longtime advocate for the homeless in Federal Way. Ruby Edwards said she would hear her mother talk about the problems and challenges in the community and wish someone would do something about that.
“Then I realized that I was someone, and I could be the one doing something about it,” Edwards said.
When the three of them connected in leadership class, they decided more people needed to become educated on homelessness, and specifically how Decatur students are affected, and set about creating a homeless awareness committee. They then discovered a need at their own school.
“From doing that research, we realized our school didn’t even have a food pantry,” Edwards said.
They then set about fixing that problem.
“So just the whole idea [of creating a food pantry at the high school] really, really appealed to us and was the best thing to start with,” Edwards said.
Opening a food pantry at Decatur High School involves more than deciding the school should have one, however. First, the students had to determine if there was space for one at the high school; figure out where it could go; form partnerships to make sure it would be available to students during the day time; and create awareness and raise money for the project.
Edwards said the group also spoke to people with whom her mother works regarding homeless issues and got their insight and suggestions for the proposed pantry.
They also spoke to representatives at other Federal Way high schools to learn about their food pantries. They then used all this information to determine what to include in Decatur’s pantry to best meet students’ needs.
Early on, they decided the bank should include more than just food.
They want students to be able to get food, clothing and basic necessities, such as for hygiene, in the private location. They also want it to be a place where visitors can get information on services available to them.
Another component is educating the rest of the student body to encourage ongoing item and monetary donations, as well as raise awareness about homelessness in general.
“So, one thing that we think that’s very important is not only getting people the help if it’s needed, but also letting people who don’t need it know how big of an issue this is,” Turner said.
Edwards, Greene and Turner have already hosted one bingo night to raise awareness, money and donations for their budding project, and they intend to have more in the future. Currently, they have plenty of hygiene items, but need to more food.
They also have a location picked out, in the Communities in Schools office, that will suit their needs once it is cleaned out and stocked after winter break is over.
The biggest challenge, however, is making sure the food pantry is sustainable after their involvement in leadership ends.
“I don’t want it to be just another thing that Decatur does,” Edwards said. “I want it to become a thing that is part of Decatur’s culture.”