Students from Pierce Downer Elementary School in Downers Grove took a hands-on approach to combating hunger in our community by organizing a school-wide food and holiday toy drive followed by a group visit to the West Suburban Community Pantry (WSCP) in Woodridge. The mission of the committee is to inspire and prepare students to connect with individuals and families in need around our community by providing monthly service opportunities.

Pierce Downer’s Student Council partnered with the Service Learning Committee to put the event together. During the visit, they learned what the pantry does and back at school shared this information with volunteer class representatives. The representatives spoke to classrooms about the services provided by the food pantry, promoted the week long food and toy drive, and invited students to participate in a tour and help out at the food pantry.

WSCP provides food to residents of DuPage County, with a special concentration on seven surrounding communities including those that have a higher-than-average poverty rate: Darien, Downers Grove, Lisle, Naperville, Westmont, Willowbrook and Woodridge. The organization’s mission is, “Offer food to the hungry and provide resources to empower persons to improve the quality of their life. Our vision is a community without hunger.”

Students and their families responded generously to the food and toy drive by donating more than 120 pounds of food and 30 bags of toys. The food collected equates to approximately 100 meals and the toys spread holiday cheer to some of the children who receive food from WSCP.

On a bitter cold afternoon, several dozen elementary students and parents gathered in Woodridge to tour the food pantry and learn about the people who are helped there. In a room lined with shelves of dry goods and a refrigerated section of perishables, WSCP Executive Director Laura Traut-Coyle explained that the pantry serves more than 36,000 individuals, including more than 14,000 children and 5,000 seniors living throughout DuPage County. Traut-Coyle helped the kids relate to the hunger of the 14,000 kids served by WSCP. She asked them to remember a time when they were hungry and cranky after school and imagine if there hadn’t been any food at home they could eat and what that might be like. Soon the group got to work pulling donated toys out of boxes and bags and sorting them by age and type. Even the youngest kids approached the task with purpose, eager to help the children they had just learned about. In describing the effect the overall experience had on him, Rajan Fisher, Student Council Vice President, said, “I learned a lot from the tour. It makes me feel good to help families in our community.”

WSCP welcomes volunteers to help with food sorting, stocking pantry shelves, customer services, food distribution, repacking, cleaning the pantry, and more. If you would like to schedule an individual or group volunteer activity, please contact the Pantry at 630-512-9921.

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