SARASOTA, FL – A recent effort is proving that – no matter how young or old, or what their previous experience in charitable works may be – all community members can, indeed, make a difference in the lives of others. The launch of All Faiths Food Bank’s High School Hunger Heroes program in January of 2021 has been an unqualified success, as numerous Food Bank mobile pantry sites have enjoyed a major boost of volunteer support with the assistance of approximately 200 student participants.
A former Food Bank volunteer, Carol Hubbard, is a retired Sarasota County Schools employee who came forward with the idea to establish a formalized program to recruit high school students and provide consistent volunteer opportunities for them. While still working for the school district, Hubbard was instrumental in recruiting students to volunteer with All Faiths.
All Faiths has always had students volunteer but not on a regular basis and there were no opportunities geared specifically toward them. The goal of creating a more structured program was to provide them with more opportunities to reach their community service requirement for the Florida Bright Futures scholarship as well as to introduce them to the importance – and fulfillment – of giving back to the community.
Participating students can volunteer at mobile pantry sites or pack boxes of food at the Food Bank’s warehouse. Over the summer, they also volunteer in All Faiths’ warehouse packing food for distribution into the community and “Backpacks” with healthy snacks for children. The student volunteers hail from the following high schools: Booker, Cardinal Mooney, Lakewood Ranch, Pine View, Riverview, Sarasota and Venice.
“The students are very enthusiastic, eager to help out, and willing to perform any task assigned to them with a positive attitude,” says Victoria Hasselbring, All Faiths’ community engagement & volunteer coordinator. “Our more seasoned mobile pantry volunteers have enjoyed working with them as well as passing their knowledge and experience along to the younger generation.”
Area students are encouraged to accumulate 120 hours of community service throughout their high school career. The High School Hunger Heroes program gives students the opportunity to use their time and talents to not only complete volunteer hours but also to make a lasting difference in their community.
“I think the majority of students get involved initially to satisfy their community service requirements but they remain in the program because they’re making friends, learning valuable lessons from the more mature and experienced volunteers they’re working with, gaining a broader perspective of the world around them, and experiencing the fulfillment that comes from helping those in need,” says Hasselbring.
The High School Hunger Heroes program has also launched an offshoot, the High School Leadership Council, in August of 2021. It comprises eight students from various schools and grade levels who were required to apply and be interviewed before earning the position. They each serve at a mobile pantry and are the designated point person for other student volunteers at that location. They help to get new student volunteers acclimated to the process, work with AFFB staff and adult lead volunteers to delegate tasks to other students at the pantries, and ensure that AFFB’s safety protocols and attendance policies are being upheld. Younger student leaders are paired with older student leaders to serve as “co-leaders” so they can step into the primary role once the older students have graduated.
All Faiths leaders assert that, in addition to providing invaluable assistance in its hunger relief efforts, becoming more engaged in their community and being civic minded will also help students develop into well-rounded and grounded adults as they venture out into the world and establish themselves in future careers. They are also enhancing philanthropic values and gaining useful skills that will aid them in their future pursuits, such as compassion, teamwork, collaboration, communication, and an open-mindedness and acceptance of other backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses.
“All of my volunteer hours are logged for scholarship application purposes but I choose to volunteer with All Faiths Food Bank because I’m interested in addressing issues relating to food security by pursuing an education in food science,” says Pine View senior Anya Dennison. “Involvement with AFFB gives me firsthand experience in this field.”
“Because of the satisfaction gained through volunteering for such a noble cause, I would recommend this community service opportunity to anybody looking to make a positive impact on society, even if it is not required,” added student volunteer Nicholas Holland, who is a senior at Riverview High School.
To learn more about the High School Hunger Heroes program, contact Hasselbring at 941-549-8156 or email@example.com. For more about All Faiths Food Bank, visit AllFaithsFoodBank.org.
About All Faiths Food Bank
All Faiths Food Bank is the only food bank and largest hunger relief organization in Sarasota and DeSoto counties, providing millions of meals each year with nearly 200 agencies and programs throughout the community. All Faiths works not only to fight hunger today but also strives to end hunger – forever – by helping families and individuals gain long-term food security, enjoy better health outcomes, and achieve self-sufficiency. In 2020, All Faiths distributed nearly 22.5 million pounds of food, provided 60% more meals than the previous year, and rallied in the face of a 53% increase in new clients at food distributions due to the pandemic. For its efforts, All Faiths was honored as the 2021 “Nonprofit of the Year” by the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce; the organization was also recognized as a Top 4 Food Bank in the country in 2020. All Faiths is rated 4 stars by Charity Navigator and is a member of the Feeding America and Feeding Florida networks. For more information, visit allfaithsfoodbank.org.