JFS Perspectives

Monday, June 29, 2020

Why I Created the Pandemic Pantry Pick-Up Food Drive

Why I Created the Pandemic Pantry Pick-Up Food Drive

Samantha Thomas, incoming Sophomore Class President at Cherry Creek High School, recently completed a Pandemic Pantry Pick-Up food drive for the JFS Weinberg Food Pantry. We spoke with her to learn more about the project and to get her advice to other teens who want to give back to their community.

JFS: How did you get the idea to do the Pandemic Pantry Pick-Up project for JFS?

Samantha Thomas (ST): I am part of a nonprofit organization called LinensNLove, where I recently became the Director of Project Leaders. Typically, LinensNLove collects blankets and linens that are no longer useable from hotels and brings them to homeless, animal, and women’s shelters. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have switched to doing individual projects and writing articles for our publication. When I was given the opportunity to start my own project, I wasn’t sure where to start, but I knew that I wanted to tend to the needs of my community the best I could. Then, after seeing how absolutely stuffed with food my pantry was, I got the idea of a food drive. I remembered looking at the aisles at the stores at the beginning of the pandemic and remembering that EVERYTHING had been taken and bought; some people took more than they needed, and some people were not being able to get enough to support their families. So, in a time when food is scarce, people depend on food banks more than ever. But given the circumstances, I knew this food drive couldn’t be like most others…and the idea of the Pandemic Pantry Pick-Up was born. The food drive was based on me driving around and getting non-contact donations from houses around Colorado while maintaining social distancing.

JFS: Tell us more about the project and how it worked.

Instagram post for Pandemic Pantry Pick-UpST: I chose to give to the Weinberg Food Pantry because I volunteered there a couple years ago and knew it was a great place to donate. I found a list of most-needed items on the JFS website to help me figure out what to collect, such as canned food, toilet paper, diapers, pasta, beans, and more. I made sure to tell people to try to donate healthy and nutritious foods. I designed a PDF with all the information, including most-needed items and a sign-up link for pick-ups. I advertised all over my social media and had people sign up from all over Colorado, including many people that I didn’t even know. I collected all the information through my online sign-ups and had over 30 donors.

I sent out confirmation texts to all the people who signed up, scheduled the time best for them, and gave them all the pick-up instructions. I had all my donors prep their food by putting it in a bag or box in an accessible area where I could safely grab the food while still social distancing.

JFS: How did you get the word out about the project?

ST: Social media was really my best friend during the advertising process, especially because many people are continuing to stay inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I used platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Nextdoor to advertise my purpose, need, and how to get involved. I made numerous fliers to use for posts and stories and made sure to get other people to help repost my content as well. My most useful tool was Instagram by far because of the promotional posts you can make. For a low out-of-pocket cost, I promoted my post with all the information and the sign-up link and got five to ten donors just from that. My family and friends helped me spread the word and made sure that my project would not go unnoticed.

JFS: How much did you collect?

ST: Overall, I collected 544 food donations equaling 745 pounds. These items included canned vegetables, soups, and fruits, pasta, instant potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and much more. There was a great variety, as people had lots to offer from their pantries.

JFS: What did you learn or gain from this experience?

Samantha with food donationsST: I absolutely loved every minute of running this project! It was certainly a lot of work and took numerous hours of work every day to get done. I’m so happy knowing that my hard work will help people who are more in need than I am—people who might not know where their next meal is coming from and depend on food pantries for help.

The biggest lesson I learned is how important communication and making connections is in a project that relies on other people’s help. I had to coordinate pick-ups with more than 30 people and pave over every bump in the road that I hit along the way. Sometimes people wouldn’t have their things ready or they needed to reschedule at the last minute and I had to readjust my plans to make sure I did what was best for my donors.

JFS: What advice would you give to other teens looking to do a project to help JFS?

ST: Don’t think that any project is “too big” or “too hard.” Any project will take a lot of work, but it will always be worth it in the end if you are doing it to help your community. As teens, we have the blessing of summer break, which gives us extra time to give back and donate our time and resources to people who need it more than ourselves. When starting a project, the first step is researching and composing a good plan with a timeline that works for you. After that, the rest of it is simply getting others involved and letting people know your purpose and why they should help you. No project is too small; any kind of service or project you can do to give back to your community and help others is amazing and helps to better the world around us.

I may be only 15 years old, but with enough effort and work, I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I hope I can encourage other young minds to step up in their community and help make the positive change they want to see.

If you or your teen would like to volunteer in the Weinberg Food Pantry this summer, sign-up here!