SARASOTA, FL – A recent effort has proved 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. All Faiths Food Bank’s High School Hunger Heroes program first launched in January of 2021; during the 2021-2022 school year, 246 students contributed a total of 3,729 volunteer hours in the effort to provide nutritional assistance to individuals and families in need in Sarasota County.
The students – who hail from Booker, Cardinal Mooney, Lakewood Ranch, North Port, Pine View, Riverview, Sarasota and Venice High Schools – volunteered monthly at 10 mobile distributions over the course of the school year as well as packed boxes of food at the Food Bank’s warehouse.
On June 9, All Faiths hosted an end-of-year luncheon for high school students who participated in the inaugural year of the High School Hunger Heroes Peer Leadership Program. The students were treated to lunch, played some ice-breaker games, tested their knowledge of the food bank with trivia questions, and took a tour of the facility and warehouse. They also provided valuable feedback for ideas to grow and improve the program moving forward. Before they left, the students were challenged to recruit a friend to participate in the program for the next school year.
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 believe 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 Victoria Hasselbring, All Faiths Food Bank’s community engagement & volunteer coordinator.
The Peer Leadership Program comprises eight students from various schools and grade levels who are required to apply and be interviewed before earning the position. They each serve at a mobile pantry and are the designated point people 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 also helps 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 – such as compassion, teamwork, collaboration, communication, and an open-mindedness and acceptance of other backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses – that will aid them in future pursuits.
To learn more about the High School Hunger Heroes program, contact Hasselbring at 941-549-8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 2021, All Faiths distributed 19 million pounds of food – equating to 17 million meals, provided 36% more meals than 2019 (pre-pandemic), and remained steadfast in its commitment to provide nutritional assistance to community members, including 44% who were new to the food bank. 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.