The week before Thanksgiving, more than 200 students took home backpacks full of donated food for their families. The distribution was just one of the types of projects the Peace Pantry at Woodrow Wilson High School does during the school year.
The Church of the Incarnation Academy in Uptown Dallas donated the backpacks, and families took them home and returned them full of food. Some of the bags were filled from stock at the Peace Pantry. In just its second year, the pantry’s reach is growing through work by parents and students who have gotten involved.
Brooke Varner, a science teacher at Woodrow, dedicated some of the closet space in her classroom to store donated canned goods and other items. The Peace Pantry offers emergency assistance for families of Woodrow students until they can figure out their changing circumstances.
“What is happening is that the rents in this area are skyrocketing,” Varner said. “Families aren’t able to keep up. Sometimes they can pay rent, but they don’t have money for food.”
The food comes from donations, including a recent student food drive at the school that collected 1,000 cans.
“The parent and community support has been amazing,” she said. “All I do is hand the food out. The community has been supplying it.”
Nancy Wilson is the parent leader for the pantry. When her daughter began attending Woodrow, she and Varner became friends.
“We happened to be talking about students who didn’t have food on the weekends and after school, so I decided to do some research,” Wilson said. “I found that other schools had pantries on campus to assist their students.”
Wilson secured approval from Principal Kyle Richardson to launch a similar effort at Woodrow, and volunteers soon followed. Kippy Clapp, one of the volunteers who has joined the effort, said that the Lakewood Elementary PTA has conducted a food drive for the pantry.
Woodrow students are also eager to help their classmates.
“When you are helping people, it kind of warms your heart, gives you a boost to help others,” said junior Wendy Garcia, who added she works in the pantry as often as she can.
Jennifer Saucedo, also a junior, agrees.
“My friends and I wanted to do something together, and it seemed like fun,” she said. “It is fun helping people.”
As colder weather approaches, Woodrow cheerleaders are contributing by conducting a coat drive.
“Last year we hadn’t quite figured it out, we were disorganized,” Varner said. “This year, more people have been requesting to help. We are grateful as a school.”
For those who want to launch similar efforts at their schools, Varner suggested finding students who are interested in helping, and also recruiting parents and other staff. Varner’s classroom is an ideal spot at Woodrow because students feel comfortable there and often go just to hang out.
“Find out what kinds of needs there are, because the ones here have emergency needs,” she said. “Find help. At Woodrow, it has come in the form of students and parents and the community support.”
Wilson said the Peace Pantry is important because it provides food and uniforms to students who need them. With both those needs met, students gain confidence, and that increases their chances for success. She said she would like to see a larger space for the pantry, and see its services extended to the Woodrow Wilson feeder pattern.
“Dallas ISD should have something like this in all high schools,” Wilson said. “It encourages a community to come together for the better of each student.”