By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — The extended family at Traverse City High School means helping fellow students as needed.
For the mentor student group guided by teacher Mary Preston, this translates into operating a food pantry.
Launched about three years ago, the food pantry now occupies three walls of a room at the school. Shelves hold donated canned and packaged goods, personal-care items, baby food and diapers. For a school where nearly a third of the 150 students are in residential transition — without a stable home — a place to grab some food to eat that night is crucial.
"If somebody needs food, at least if you're going to school you can get it there, instead of getting it from the people you're couch surfing," said Hunter Campbell, a senior who has been homeless, has couch surfed or been on his own. "When you need it, it's here for you.
"This is like home-away- from-home," he added of the alternative high school.
As with many area food pantries, the shelves are sparsely filled. Students at the school are turning to the community, which so far has been generous with its support. Since it began, people have been stopping by the school to drop off items.
With demand rising and shelves emptying, however, more help is needed.
"Our donations are down and our food seems to be going out more quickly — I don't know if our need numbers are going up or just more kids are learning about it," said Preston, a language arts teacher. "We're always on the edge."
Mentor groups meet daily at the school, guided by a teacher, to tackle a project for the school. Another group spearheads recycling, for example.
Preston's food pantry mentor group is determined that no student should go hungry — reflecting the school's closeness.
"It helps a lot of people at the school," said Whitney Fraser, a sophomore.
The students have held fundraisers to raise money to purchase inventory for the food pantry; they also accept cash donations.
Regular pop sales at the school every Tuesday help raise money.
Oryana Natural Foods has been a big supporter of the effort.
Preston keeps a budget and helps students manage the money, such as tracking profits as well as expenses from a fundraiser.
"Our first group did a dance three years ago and admission was canned goods," Preston said. "We realized there was a need and the next (mentor) group said, 'Why don't we just call for canned goods?'"
The food pantry is run on the honor system: a student asks for help and takes what he or she needs. From the beginning, students decided not to be "food police."
"When you are here, you think of your friends and it's common courtesy not to take too much," said Campbell.
Traverse City High School, 3962 Three Mile Road North, accepts donations for the food pantry during school hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call Preston at 933-5874.