Note: This story was updated at 1:25 p.m. Jan. 26.
A pantry started about a year ago at Oak Ridge High School provides food, clothing, toiletries, and cleaning products to students in need.
It’s known as the RISE Pantry. RISE stands for Raising Individual Students to Excellence.
The pantry started with a cabinet. It’s now housed in a former classroom on the third floor of the high school.
Items stored there include, among other essentials, backpacks and notebooks, pants and shirts, shoes and boots, and soup and beans.
“You can’t learn if your basic needs aren’t met,” said English teacher and coach Allen Etheridge, one of those who started the pantry. “(If) a kid asks, we will bring them down here.”
Etheridge and Leslie Shelton, another English teacher, started texting one Sunday about a school in North Carolina that had a pantry.
“It just went from there,” Etheridge said.
Fifty-three percent of students in Oak Ridge Schools are eligible for free and reduced lunches. It’s roughly 50 percent at the high school, a significant increase over the past decade, according to school officials.
The pantry items are designed to help students get ready to learn.
There are students who come to school hungry, and some are in charge of feeding their siblings, Shelton said. Pantry organizers wanted to ensure that there is food available to take home that is relatively wholesome.
“The take-home part is a big deal,” Shelton said.
One child wanted to use cleaning supplies to clean a house for a surprise birthday party for the student’s mother, ORHS Vice Principal Beth Estep said.
The pantry is meant to help meet student needs with dignity and choice.
“It’s important to meet their needs with dignity,” Shelton said.
Four people have a key to the pantry, and students find out about it through word of mouth. There is no screening. Others who can help with the pantry are ORHS counselor Brianna Ottinger and teacher Tom Sauer.
Teachers know children who need clothes, Shelton said.
Among those who have helped collect items for the pantry are faculty, administrators, parents, ORAU, Breakfast Rotary, Kmart, Home Depot, and Oak Valley Baptist Church.
“People have been unbelievably generous,” Etheridge said.
Estep said donated items just “show up on her desk.”
The pantry organizers said they could use money for food and toiletries. The money rolls over year to year. During a tour with the Oak Ridge Board of Education earlier this month, the pantry organizers said they were going shopping for winter coats for students.
The RISE Pantry also stores used prom dresses. That program, which started earlier, has been led by Ottinger and teacher Shannon Eidam.
If you want to donate, you can bring items to ORHS and give them to Estep. If she isn’t available, Elizabeth Huffman in the main office will get the items to Estep, Etheridge said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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