Area Teens Help Create School Food Pantry

Olivia Andrews, from Cary, Mohammed Guerrab and Malik McFadden, both of Raleigh, and Kaitlyn Gosline, from Holly Springs, helped establish a food bank at Walnut Creek Elementary School in Raleigh.

Four area teens have more to show from their summer jobs than a few dollars in the bank.

Olivia Andrews, from Cary, Kaitlyn Gosline, from Holly Springs, and Mohammed Guerrab and Malik McFadden, both of Raleigh, helped establish a food bank at Walnut Creek Elementary School in Raleigh.

The teens worked with the YMCA of the Triangle on the project, their internships supported by the Bank of America Student Leaders program. In its third year, the program helps students develop workplace and leadership skills through paid internships with local nonprofits and a weeklong conference in Washington, D.C.

Along with a community garden, started by staff at Walnut Creek, the food bank will support students and their families. Roughly 70 percent of the 800 students at the school qualify for free or reduced-price meals, according to 2016 figures.

“The social worker and counselor are really passionate about this project,” said Kaitlyn. “Just to hear them talk about their vision, how much they want to support these kids, and love on these kids – it was really inspiring.

“Even though the school doesn’t have as many resources as other schools, the teachers and staff are really passionate about giving the kids the tools they need to succeed. That motivated me to work even harder on the project.”

The teens planned the food bank from scratch. Besides gathering canned goods and produce, they also raised money and recruited volunteers who would continue to support the food bank.

“We are trying to open this food bank, but also make it sustainable, so it lasts through the whole year and it will be a place of love and hope,” said Olivia.

Through their summer project and meetings with YMCA staff, the students were challenged to think about how they could have an impact on the community. That theme continued at the conference in Washington, where 230 Bank of America Student Leaders gathered for workshops, mentoring and lively discussions.

“The D.C. trip was an amazing and unforgettable experience,” said Olivia. “Being able to hear everyone’s perspective and being able to form our own opinion, has taught us a lot about what we believe and what we’re passionate about. We also met awesome student leaders.”

Diversity and respect were two key takeaways from the conference, says Virginia Parker, senior vice president and Triangle market manager at Bank of America.

“What these students learn while they’re there is, that it’s not the external aspects of diversity that can be tough. It’s really the internal – the thoughts, perspectives, beliefs, values and morals that all these kids share,” she said.

“When you can be empathetic and sympathetic and accepting and willing to listen to diverse opinions, it’s a lifelong skill.”

The Student Leaders program is open to any rising junior or senior in the Triangle. Applications, which are primarily essay-based, are accepted online from October to January.

“We’re really looking for students who have a passion around service, advocacy and leadership,” Parker said.

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