Perry High GSA Students to Launch In-School Food Pantry

This is the Donation Link –>


My respect and admiration for LGBTQ youth increased even more today after a conversation with Perry High School librarian and GSA sponsor, Sheila May-Stein.

The students in this Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) – the second largest in the Pittsburgh Public School system – are in the midst of launching a student-led food pantry to meet the needs of their peers who are experiencing hunger.

The conversation started several months ago during a GSA meeting when the youth were discussing hunger and considered that some of their fellow students acted aggressively or inappropriately. One students pointed out that some of them were hungry. While the student families are served by the second-largest food pantry in Pennsylvania, many of their families simply don’t have enough food resources to meet their needs. The school offers breakfast and lunch programs, but the breakfast is described as unappetizing and portioned the same for a 16-year-old junior as for an 8-year-old elementary student. And the school’s backpack program which provides a bag of food for the weekend often doesn’t meet the needs of the teens.

I wonder how many people ask teens these types of questions and takes their feedback seriously? It makes sense that if you want to reduce in-school violence, you consider what we jokingly describe as being ‘hangry’ (hungry + angry) with regard to cranky middle-aged ladies. Of course, it makes sense.

So the group decided to do something about it. They started off by meeting with an anti-hunger activist Mary Shull and then with representatives of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The school principal allocated a closet to be used for storage and distribution, with a commitment to provide further space if the project is successful. The Food Bank can provide an array of items on a regular basis free of charge to member food pantries, but the students knew that it was essential to provide food that the kids would actually eat.

So they created a 10 person committee who converted the Food Bank list into a student survey which was distributed school wide. They had to use a paper format because not all students have computer access. They are in the process of tabulating the results to create a simple inventory.

The Perry High Pantry will eventually feature items from the Food Bank as well as supplemental items purchased with private cash donations. The students are committed to offering an array of culturally appropriate personal care products as well as bottled water to meet the needs of students whose homes lack running water for drinking and bathing.

They hope to open by the end of March and launch a pilot phase throughout the remainder of the year and early in the fall semester. Their vision is that students seeking food or other products will submit a list from the available inventory. A student volunteer will fill the order, packed in typical plastic grocery bags and give it to the student. The idea is that students can tuck the grocery bag into their backpack rather than have a visible indicator of being a food pantry ‘client’ such as a tote bag or special backpack.

One of the students said “Hungry kids wants dignity, too.”

Beyond the Food Bank, the project has several community partners. Planned Parenthood of Western PA will be regularly donating tampons and pads. Chef Bill Fuller of Big Burrito will be working with the students to offer cooking lessons using items available in the pantry. The students have also applied for a grant from Grow Pittsburgh to seed a student garden to supplement the nonperishable items with fresh vegetables.

The students have launched a crowdfundraiser with a goal of $5000 to purchase the “filler” items not available from partners and to eventually purchase a commercial refrigerator to store perishable items.  They have raised more than $1400 so far. All funds will be managed by the school as with any other student led project.

This GSA is very active in social causes of many types, including active advocacy around the needs of public education systems and racial justice issues. It is clear that they have a solid grasp on the needs of their peers and that student “choices and voices” will continue to steer the project as it grows.

It will provide food and hygiene products for students in need to take  home for their own use and for their families’. 

If you will consider donating what you can, you will be of great help. We believe that adequate food cuts down on violence in school and helps kids concentrate while nourishing their bodies. We appreciate your support. 

I find it terrific that a LGBTQ student led group has taken this initiative to address a serious issue among their peers. It shows empathy, compassion and leadership. I hope every single LGBTQ person in this region who are able to make a donation will do so to support their initiative.

Regarding donations – for this pilot phase, the students have opted to stick with the Food Bank items and cash donations. Sorting and organizing donated products from the public adds a lot of work to the project so they want to keep things simple and focused.  So donations of products are not accepted as of right now. Please consider a donation of any amount through the crowdfund.  As an adult who has organized hundreds of drives, I think this is a wise and practical approach to a project launch.

If you do have food items to donate, please consider the food pantry of Northside Common Ministries which serves many families of these same students.

These kids have invested a lot of careful work and thought into this project. We owe them the resources to be fully funded ASAP. You can make that happen right now.

Let’s remember the importance of supporting our young leaders when they set out to change the world. Their awareness of food insecurity among their peers is consistent with the experiences of the LGBTQ community writ large. From a 2013 report analyzed by The Williams Institute:

New study shows 2.4 million (29%) LGBT adults experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family.  LGBT people experience disproportionate levels of food insecurity and higher participation rates in the SNAP program, especially those raising children, a risk that persists despite possible differences in demographic characteristics between LGBT and non-LGBT individuals like gender, age, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment. For example, data suggest that same-sex couples raising children are approximately twice as likely to receive food stamps as different-sex couples with children. 

The City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods which are served by Perry Traditional Academy High School are: Allegheny Center, Allegheny West, Brighton Heights, California-Kirkbride, Central Northside, Chateau, East Allegheny, Fineview, Manchester, Marshall-Shadeland, North Shore, Northview Heights, Perry South, Spring Hill-City View, Spring Garden, Summer Hill and Troy Hill.

I live in Manchester so many of my neighbors’ children attend or attended Perry. There’s a lot of pride in that school and desire to see the children succeed. I hope all of the neighborhoods and community groups and businesses will contribute to this project. It is an investment on so many levels.

Here’s the link one more time.

Let’s do this with them and for them.


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