On the corner of North Binkley Street and East Park Avenue, students at Soldotna Montessori Charter School are fighting hunger in the community with a new mini food pantry.
The mini food pantry operates on the mantra ‘take what you need, leave what you can’ in hopes of alleviating the issue of hunger in Soldotna.
Students and their families will take turns throughout the summer to ensure that there is food for anyone that needs it within the wooden pantry. During the school year, older students will form task forces throughout to ensure that the pantry is well maintained.
According to Terri Carter, a teacher and advisor at Soldotna Montessori, the entire project is purely student run.
“From start to end, this will be a child directed project… This is a community that focuses on children. They are nurtured and loved, they receive all of that and out of that comes the desire to give back,” Carter said.
Friday afternoon, the students marked the opening of the pantry with a ribbon cutting where they celebrated its installation by filling it with boxes of macaroni and cheese and other nonperishables. They were joined by Soldotna Mayor Peter Sprague and Jim Frate of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
“I thought from the start you were something special, but now I know you are,” Frate told the students. “Thank you for helping us to feed people in our community. Combatting hunger is a community effort and this is a good step in the right direction.”
Months of hard work went into bringing the mini food pantry from an idea to reality.
“We saw those lending libraries popping up and we started with the idea of a library in the garden but it turned into us saying it would be even more of an impact if we could take that idea and do it with food,” said Carter.
After coming up with the idea, a group of sixth-graders took the reins and started planning everything down to the type of food in the mini food pantry.
Malaina Maal, Tori Verba, Sonia Montague, Emma Updike and Selena Payment spoke in front of the Soldotna City Council to see what requirements they would need to meet and how to successfully, and legally, bring the food pantry to life.
“They gave a seven-minute presentation at the council meeting that represented a lot of heart, compassion and dedication and a lot of kids really digging through the information necessary and coming up with brainstormed solutions to make it work,” Carter said.
The council embraced the idea following the students’ presentation and gave permission for them to move forward with the project.
“When you spoke to city council, you said that what you want to do is make the community a better place than when you found it, and this will do that,” Sprague told the students.
“I want to thank you for identifying a need and finding what may be lacking on our community, and acting on it,” he said. “Acting on that need is what we all try to do as public servants.”
Each of the five students who spoke at the council meeting agreed that the hardest part of the whole venture was deciding which foods were okay to put in the pantry.
“We went through long lists and talked with the (Kenai Peninsula) Food Bank and made sure that everything we’re going to put in their is OK to stay,” Maal said.
“Like in the winter, we can’t have liquids or they will freeze,” Payment said. “But, we do want to start putting in scarves or small Christmas gifts for people to stop by and really brighten their day.”
The mini food pantry is now open and, as of Friday, fully stocked, but the students are hoping that changes.
“We’re excited to be able to stop by and see when things get taken and know that people are better for it,” Montague said.
Carter said that the next step is to spread the word, throughout the community and beyond. The students are looking into public announcements and plan on going to various organizations that have contact with people in need.
“I think this is going to catch on,” Carter said. “If you talk to people who are impressed by what we’ve done, just tell them to do it themselves.”