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Local Efforts to Combat Student Hunger

North Chatham Elementary School parent Darline Johns prepares backpacks for her program to provide food to those in need.

By: Corey Risinger

While student hunger may not have many film tributes yet, the public certainly seems to regard it as an “inconvenient truth.” Locally, though, determined volunteers and charitable organizations have taken up the cause, making it their mission to combat hunger and improve the lives of hungry children.

Four years ago, Wake County parent Darline Johns joined this group of local difference-makers when she established the North Chatham School backpack program to combat student hunger. Johns’s organization began as a passionate response to a conversation she had with a kindergartener at her son’s North Chatham Elementary School.

“Here at school, I get breakfast and lunch. At home on weekends, I don’t get to eat,” the boy told Johns.

Now, Johns has made it her mission to help children like this little boy regain their love of the weekend. Overcoming an initial lack of donations and funds, Johns’s organization has been able to feed 90 families in the past year and eliminate previous wait lists. The Wake County community has applauded her efforts, and she has gained recognition and volunteers.

“I have had children call me their ‘food angel,’ run up to hug me and give me a ‘fist bump’ in the air when they see me distributing the bags to classes,” Johns said.

Even after her program’s success, Johns holds that the food donations have truly been a community effort.

“I always get tears in my eyes when I see donations left at the school. I love to see our community [members] taking care of each other,” Johns said.

As the program and her individual efforts continue to expand, Johns hopes they can draw much-needed attention to address student hunger.

“I will continue to bring as much awareness [as I can] through news articles, food drives and collections to aid this cause,” Johns said. “I truly believe that one person can start the change, but it takes a community to make the change.”

Likewise, East seniors Alexandra Willcox, Jeremy Fox and Milica Stansic have found their own way to contribute their volunteer services as the leaders of “People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Homes” at East.

“PORCH’s mission is to help provide [for] local families in need…Although not many people realize it, the fairly affluent town of Chapel Hill still has a very significant hunger problem,” Fox said.

Hosting monthly donation drives, Willcox, Fox and Stanisic collect food for the PORCH organization, which provides hungry families with enough food for the weekends and holidays, in their neighborhoods and through their own East chapter. While they aim to increase the amount of donations their food drives collect, the seniors have also hosted charitable events, like an East Dance Ensemble Show this past spring. After raising $340 at the show, Willcox is confident in the community’s drive to help others.

“It was so encouraging to see this outpouring of support for local families, and even more encouraging to see the fresh produce delivered to the families in need,” Willcox said.

School board member James Barrett also realizes the dangers of student hunger, and recognizes the incredible feats of volunteers like Willcox, Fox, and Stanisic, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District’s family specialists’ efforts.

“I love the wonderful outside organizations… willing to donate their time and resources to support our families at home. I’m glad we are open to allowing…cooperative work in our schools,” Barrett said.

Photo Courtesy of: 15phCm.Em.156.jpeg, The News & Observer

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