Students work to collect donations for North Hills food pantry

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The cupboards are nearly bare at the North Hills Community Outreach's food pantry, but local schools are helping to restock the shelves.

Though school has been in session for just one month, students and staff at several school districts in the North Hills quickly organized food drives for this month after the staff at the North Hills Community Outreach expressed the need.

“Our usage is gradually increasing little by little, and it feels our donations are down right now,” said Jennifer Kissel, director of communications at the outreach.

Kissel said summer is usually a difficult time for the food pantry because civic groups and schools, some of the North Hills Community Outreach's most dependable donation sources, are not in session.

“We've been really putting out the desperation plea,” Kissel said. “There's been a slight uptick in donations, but every little bit helps.”

Through Friday, Oct. 11, students at the Shaler Area Elementary School are holding a food drive to collect canned food for the outreach's food pantry.

Each year the elementary school holds several food and nonperishable item drives to benefit the North Hills Community Outreach, but Cynthia Foht, elementary school principal, said as soon as the students and staff learned of the immediate need they organized an impromptu drive.

The student-led drive, run under the supervision of teachers, invites students to bring in canned food during lunch periods in exchange for raffle tickets and the chance to win a prize basket assembled by the school staff at the end of the 10-day food drive.

“Our school is very supportive of the North Hills Community Outreach because we encourage our kids to help their neighbors — because it's neighbors helping neighbors,” Foht said.

At Hampton Township School District, the Helping Hands service clubs at the middle and elementary schools will be organizing food drives, and the middle school Breakfast Café, a family and consumer science program, will be collecting and donating money for the outreach.

Through Oct. 18, the Pine-Richland Education Support Professionals Association is holding a “Full Bellies, Warm Bodies” food and coat drive campaign to benefit local families through the North Hills Community Outreach.

The PRESPA organization is made up of 132 secretaries, para-educators and custodians in the district that twice per year organizes a community service project. During last week's homecoming game, members collected food and coat donations from spectators.

“The public has supported us especially as para-educators very well … it's sort of our way to give back,” said Susan Torchia, a para-educator at Richland Elementary. “We feel we're not just teachers in a building … we care about the people we serve and we want to show we care about the people we serve.”

Each month, the North Hills Community Outreach's food pantry serves about 500 families in the North Hills communities, including Shaler, Hampton, Pine, Richland, Ross, McCandless and Bellevue. Families are able to come to the food pantry once per month on any of the first four Tuesdays in the month.

“What we see happening is we don't have enough food to give every family what they would normally get in a grocery order,” Kissel said. “By Tuesday we're wiped out of the essentials and hoping we have enough by next Tuesday.”

Kissel said the outreach is very grateful for the response from the area school districts and sees it as a win-win situation. Being aware of the needs of families in their own communities is a good learning experience for students who participate in the food drives in their schools, and the food drives also help the food pantry serve those families.

“From our perspective, schools are a great resource for us because we can reach so many people and so many families,” Kissel said. “When the chips are down and we really need something, the schools always pull through.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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