Op­er­a­tion Fill the Pantry ex­pands to more county schools

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JES­SICA IANNETTA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— Just two months af­ter launch­ing, Op­er­a­tion Fill the Pantry has opened a sec­ond pantry at Elkton High School and plans to open two more at county schools in the com­ing months.

Al­lie Austin and Kim DeAn­ge­lis, both Ce­cil County Depart­ment of Emer­gency Ser­vices em­ploy­ees, started Op­er­a­tion Fill the Pantry with the goal of pro­vid­ing free hy­giene prod­ucts to stu­dents so those stu­dents can feel their best and do their best in school.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion opened its first pantry, which in­cludes mostly hy­giene prod­ucts as well as some cloth­ing and non-per­ish­able food, at Elkton Mid­dle School in mid-Fe­bru­ary. At the end of March and at the re­quest of Elkton Mid­dle, the group opened a sec­ond pantry at Elkton High be­cause of the

ELKTON

need there, Austin said.

Un­like Elkton Mid­dle, the Elkton High pantry has food and cloth­ing avail­able for stu­dents, in ad­di­tion to hy­giene prod­ucts, Austin said.

Open­ing two pantries in quick suc­ces­sion wasn’t the orig­i­nal plan for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, but Austin said the pos­i­tive re­cep­tion and com­mu­nity sup­port for the idea made it easy to speed up the time­line.

“We were very sur­prised,” she said. “We weren’t plan­ning on even open­ing another pantry for at least five or six months.”

So far, that com­mu­nity sup­port has in­cluded a do­na­tion from Grace Wes­leyan Church in Milling­ton, a $1,000 do­na­tion from the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars post in North East and do­na­tions from the Red Lion Chris­tian Academy’s Na­tional Honor So­ci­ety. The pantry at Elkton Mid­dle has also been nearly self-sus­tain­ing thanks to do­na­tions from par­ents and teach­ers — Austin said she’s only had to bring over one bag of do­na­tions to re­stock since the pantry opened.

With all the sup­port, Op­er­a­tion Fill the Pantry plans to open a pantry at ei­ther Thom­son Es­tates or Holly Hall Ele­men­tary School as well as at one of the North East schools, thanks to the VFW’s do­na­tion, Austin said.

When look­ing at where to open pantries, the or­ga­ni­za­tion looks at schools with the most need, Austin said. At Elkton Mid­dle, about 70 per­cent of the stu­dents qual­ify for free or re­duced-price meals and at Elkton High that fig­ure is around 50 per­cent, she added.

The Elkton Mid­dle pantry has got­ten some use since it opened but Me­gan Frunzi, the school’s as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal, said it’s been a chal­lenge get­ting the word out about the pantry.

“It’s been sort of a slow process in terms of mak­ing peo­ple aware that it’s there,” she said.

But Frunzi said the school has reached out to school staff at nearby Gilpin Manor Ele­men­tary School to make them aware of the pantry in case their stu­dents need it too. And though the com­mu­nity has been great about of­fer­ing do­na­tions, Frunzi said she’s been care­ful not to ex­pand too quickly and wants to focus on mainly hy­giene items for now.

The pantry does have some non-per­ish­able items such as gra­nola bars, juice and crack­ers though, Frunzi added, and has re­ceived a few mone­tary do­na­tions, which have gone to­ward meet­ing spe­cific stu­dent needs for cloth­ing and other items.

“We’ve very happy with the com­mu­nity sup­port,” she said.

Any­one who wants to help with Op­er­a­tion Fill the Pantry can con­tact Al­lie Austin at 443-485-7111 or alexan­drea. austin@ccdps.org.

PHOTO COURTSY OF AL­LIE AUSTIN

Op­er­a­tion Fill the Pantry opened a sec­ond pantry at Elkton High School at the end of March.

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