BELLE, W.Va. — Lessons in generosity don’t just come during the Thanksgiving holiday at Riverside High School in Kanawha County.
Next to Riverside’s cafeteria in a small room that used to serve as storage space for sports equipment, five students work each school day alongside Jessica Workman, a Riverside teacher, to stock the Warrior Food Pantry that’s open to community members and students.
“Any community member can come, we don’t ask them anything,” Workman said of the year-round effort that dates back to the early 2000s at Riverside before she joined the faculty.
Food boxes are packed by request or food is available during monthly distributions.
“If a staff member notices that a student needs food or is hungry, they let me know or let another student know and we make them a box and it’s completely anonymous. Oftentimes, I don’t even know who the student is,” she explained.
A food distribution from the Riverside High pantry for Thanksgiving came earlier this month.
The Christmas distribution was scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 7.
In September, 75 people were part of the monthly distribution, according to Workman. The number was 86 in October and 93 in November.
“In December, we’ll probably have around 100,” Workman said. “January is also very high because a lot of people spend all of their money on Christmas and then they need food because they don’t have money for food.”
What goes out on distribution days depends on donations.
“Ramen noodles go pretty fast,” said Whitney Smith, a Riverside junior. “There’s also sugar that’s always needed because everybody wants sugar for all sorts of things.”
Other in-demand items at the Riverside High food pantry included canned meat, flour and oil.
In some cases, monetary donations have to be used to stock the pantry shelves with specific items. Any turkey or ham inclusions for Christmas, though, will depend on donations.
On a day before the start of Thanksgiving break for students in Kanawha County, Whitney Sparks, a sophomore, was helping sort the latest round of food donations at Riverside.
“I feel better doing this for everybody,” Sparks said.
Hailee Fitch, a Riverside High junior, agreed.
“I’ve always had a nice life. I’ve never really had to worry about not having food and I like to give back to the people who don’t have anything,” said Fitch.
Along with their work during the designated community service class, she and her fellow students also volunteer at other times during the school day, after school and on the weekends.
“They give up a lot of their own free time,” Workman said.
For more information about the Warrior Food Pantry or to make a donation, contact Riverside High School at 304-348-1996.