FERGUS – Looking to improve food accessibility in their community, students at J.D. Hogarth Public School have taken on another initiative – a community pantry.
As part of this past school year’s class curriculum, Grade 7 teacher Nava Zarrabi-Yan implemented the United Nations sustainable development goals into each subject.
The students previously held a donation drive, collecting winter clothing for the New Life Christian Reformed Church of Guelph’s Clothing Closet and kitchen items for the Furniture Bank in Toronto.
After receiving a grant of $1,500 for some student-led projects with her class, Zarrabi-Yan had the students brainstorm and pitch ideas of what they wanted to put the money towards.
“Each group had to do a presentation and talk about their budget and why it was helpful for the community,” she explained.
Ideas like gardens and birdhouses were pitched and among them was the idea for a community pantry, which was inspired by a student who had seen one in her neighbourhood.
Through the combined grant of $1,000 from the Upper Grand District School Board and $500 from Learning for a Sustainable Future, the Grade 7 class was able to not only put together the pantry, but also construct birdhouses and a pollinator garden at the school.
“We have lots of projects going on right now and this specific one, we just thought it was really important to have some community outreach so that we can allow people to come fill it and also people to come take what they need,” Zarrabi-Yan said of the pantry.
With some help and guidance from the school’s tech teacher, the community pantry is entirely student built and initiated.
“They told me what supplies to buy, and I went out and bought them and then they did the measuring, the drawing, the cutting, the nailing, the painting – they’ve been doing it all,” Zarrabi-Yan explained.
The Grade 7 teacher said it’s been really exciting to see the project come together, from watching the students compromise and discuss ideas, to researching and getting support from outside sources.
“There’s a lot of learning going on and a lot of passion because this isn’t a project that I told them they’re doing, this is a project that they’ve all decided to do,” she said.
“And then there’s just so much more excitement once they get a further step,” she added. “Everything that they accomplished you get so excited about because it’s something that they’ve done.”
Dependent upon approval from the municipality to pour the cement, the pantry will be located at the Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church near the school, which is also home to a community library.
The hope for the pantry is that it offers non-perishable items as well as toiletry items, Zarrabi-Yan said.
And the slogan that will accompany the pantry will be “take what you need and leave what you can.”
Zarrabi-Yan said watching students take on sustainable goals throughout the year has been “really empowering,” adding her hope is to potentially create a club as a way to get more students involved.
“It’s really cool, especially because so many times we were so limited with what we were allowed to do because of the restrictions from the pandemic,” she explained. “So my class was able to do a lot more than most classes because of this project.”
Zarrabi-Yan also hopes to show incoming students interested in joining the club that their goals affect everyone, including themselves, and that they can make a difference.
“There’s little things you can do in your community that makes a huge difference,” she said. “And they’re not too young to do it.”