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Hampton Middle school students collecting for Network of Hope food bank in Allison Park

| Tuesday, March 7, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Anyone with a child attending the Hampton Township Middle School, be aware: canned goods, toilet paper and laundry detergent may go missing.

But it's OK; the items are going for a good cause.

On March 13 to 17, Hampton Middle students will be participating in a food drive competition to benefit the township's Network of Hope food bank.

Last year, 272 households visited the Network's food bank an estimated six times last year, according to program director Julie Mikus. So she hopes this food drive will provide some necessary resources for those in need.

“I think it will be really neat to see how these kids respond,” she said.

The student council, which is leading the drive, hopes to encourage classmates to help those in need, according to Glenn Geary, student council advisor.

Mikus said while Network of Hope has worked with other local school districts, this is the first partnership with Hampton, she said.

Specifically, the Network of Hope food bank — an agency of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank — serves about 200 households from 30 zip codes monthly every first and third Tuesday, she said.

She added many families and individuals in the area are “one disaster away” from economic insecurity and already are “stretching their budget.”

She said 20 families in the Allison Park zip code attend the food bank and last year, 3,223 people visited it. Mikus said some of the most-needed items are diapers and laundry detergent as people don't think to donate these items, but they're essential to everyday life. And she said when choosing to buy food or washing clothes, the latter usually gets skipped.

Other most-needed items include paper products, pasta and sauce, peanut butter, dried or canned beans, canned or pouched tuna, rice and instant mashed potatoes.

The 2016 statistics indicate that 24 percent of the recipients are children, 51 percent are adults age 18 to 59 and 25 percent are senior citizens. And 632 people served in 2016 were new clients. There are also 40 veterans attending the local food bank.

Mikus said one individual had a good job, but his wife got cancer and he had to quit his job to care for their young children.

“These are hard-working people,” said Mikus, a Hampton resident whose son Benjamin is a middle school seventh-grader.

She said monetary donations are greatly appreciated, as even $10 can buy a significant amount of goods for the food bank compared to what it would provide for the everyday shopper. One dollar equals five meals, according to the most-needed list.

Geary said the students do have an incentive beyond helping the needy — the grade collecting the most food gets a doughnut party.

Student council is required to do philanthropic activities and the group specifically picked this, he said. Council members are now advertising to their fellow grade classmates to encourage donations. With an average of 230 students per grade, that could potentially be a lot of donations, said Geary, a teacher at the school since 2003.

It's all about public awareness, according to Mikus.

“We live in a self-centered world right now and we have to start with the next generation,” she said.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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