Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
November is National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Month, and just one-week before Thanksgiving students at Notre Dame High School have collected about 10,000 canned and boxed food items, during its annual food drive for 18 area food pantries.
“We started this six years ago when this year’s seniors were seventh graders, when for different reasons the Catholic Church pulled out of the Crop Walk. So knowing the need in the community, we started our own food drive,” said Notre Dame teacher Nancy Stegman. “We weren’t real sure how it was going to go at that time but it went really well and I think we maybe brought in 5,000 cans that first year. We were amazed at how well we did, and every year since then students have raised the bar and said ‘we want to do more,’ and every year we get more food pantries.”
Students are asked to bring in 15 cans each, but nearly all of them bring more than that. Each year the students turn the collection into a friendly competition between grades, and even the faculty compete, to see which group can collect the most food. Students spoke at each of the Catholic parishes in the community, and some at other churches also, asking for donations. They spoke at Kiwanis meetings, and collected door-to-door; and a pickup truck was parked outside Notre Dame schools for people to drop off their donations.
“There always is a big competition, and our class has won every year since we were in the seventh grade. It’s always a big push to beat the seniors and beat our class. It’s fun to compete with each other, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we’re helping people,” said Notre Dame senior Libby Welsh.
Every group this year surpassed their goal — bringing in two or three times that amount. Classes that meet their goal are treated with a field trip to the movies. The senior class this year led with 400 percent of their goal. In all, the school had collected about 10,000 canned and boxed food items, and $2,500 cash donations.
After collecting all of the food and donations, students separated all of into 17 piles — one for each food pantry in our community. Almost as soon as they had finished, another pantry asked them for help also, bringing the count to 18.
“How could we turn her away? All I can say is God will provide, and He always does. That day someone walked in with four cases of food that didn’t get in last week, and someone came by with a check they forgot to bring by last week,” Stegman said.
She said the need at local pantries is ongoing, but this is a special time of year to take pause and be thankful for what we have.
“My family is middle class, and my parents work hard to send me to Notre Dame. It really makes you aware of what’s going on in our community, because you see things on TV about people in third-world countries and people that go without. This hunger drive is a lot to our community, and I hope that when we graduate they continue it and make it bigger than we ever did,” Alison Baker, a senior at Notre Dame.
Baker was in the first class of seventh graders to begin collecting for Notre Dame, and now six years later she said she is amazed to have seen it grow so big each year. Stegman challenged other local schools to match or beat their donation next year.
The 18 food pantries now receiving benefits are First Presbyterian on Court Street, God’s Pantry at Eighth and Waller, Pleasant Green Baptist on North Waller Street, St. Mary of the Annunciation on Sixth Street, Salvation Army on Ninth Street, Neighbor to Neighbor Central Baptist on Highland Avenue, and Kingdom Builders on Waller Street, in Portsmouth; Community Church of Christ on Sedan Crabtree Road, and Emmanuel United Methodist on Scioto Street, in Lucasville; United Methodist Church on East Street, and Our Fathers’ Bounty on Bennett Road, in Minford; John Etterling and Michael Orban Memorial Food Pantry on Harrisonville Avenue, and St. Monica on Pine Street, in New Boston; Potter’s House on Collidge Avenue, in Sciotoville; Mt. Zion Apostolic on 16th Street, and Our Lady of Sorrows on Galena Pike, in West Portsmouth; Wheelersburg United Methodist on Gallia Pike, in Wheelersburg; and McDermott Free Will Baptist Church on High Street, in McDermott.
“It’s really humbling to hear back from the food pantries and see what we’ve done. It’s really humbling how much we’ve helped,” Welsh said.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org.