By Jody Kerzman
No child should ever have to wonder where her next meal will come from. But that is the reality for many children. It’s something Bismarck High School’s Lea Geis sees first hand everyday.
“People, including me, are surprised to learn what a problem hunger is in our community,” says Geis. “I think we are aware, but we don’t realize it could be the person sitting next to us in class. The thing that resonates with me is that if a kid is hungry, they’re not going to learn.”
So Geis has made it her mission to make sure no students at BHS are too hungry to learn. She has started a food pantry at the school. It’s the first of its kind; no other school in Bismarck or Mandan has such a thing.
It started when Geis applied for and won a grant through Capital Electric. She uses that money to purchase food for students in the school’s Starfish program – Starfish is a program designed to help 9th graders who need extra academic, social, and emotional support. When Geis picked up her grant money, she realized there was another big need at BHS.
“I visited with some of the other groups that received grants that day and I realized there is an overlying theme in our community. That theme is hunger,” says Geis. “There are a lot of hunger issues in our community and I knew I was in a position to help at least some of the hungry kids at our school.”
That realization led to a brainstorm: Geis wanted to open a food pantry at Bismarck High School. Her principal immediately agreed.
“We knew there were lots of kids who could benefit from this,” she says.
Geis started searching the internet, making phone calls, and visiting with local food pantries. Century Baptist Church jumped on board and held a food drive for the school’s food pantry.
“We didn’t really know what we needed, or what to expect,” says Geis. “We were just so excited that someone wanted to help us!”
Other groups have also been eager to help out: the football boosters organized a food drive during the BHS/ CHS football game, and the BHS Key Club also did a drive. But most touching for Geis, are the students who have asked if they can help.
“When we were setting up the food pantry, kids noticed something was going on. They asked questions, and when I explained it was a food pantry to help kids who need it, I was amazed at how many kids immediately asked how they could help. Our staff has been awesome too. I put out an email just the other day saying I could really use tuna helper, chicken helper, and jelly. I had four teachers drop off bags the next day. I think that speaks volumes about the teachers and the students at this school. They are always willing to help each other out, and that’s a really great lesson that will help them succeed long after they graduate and leave this building.”
The food pantry at BHS does not receive any funds. It is run completely off of donations. If you’d like to help stock the shelves at the BHS Food Pantry, Geis says there are some must-have items she likes to keep on hand. They include:
- Microwaveable foods – Easy Mac, Ramen noodles (many kids don’t have access to a stove to cook meals)
- Peanut butter
There are also some items to steer clear of. Geis says big bulk items are not very practical, unless she can send them home with a parent. But most times, students take food pantry items home in their backpacks, so big items are difficult to send with kids. Geis says she also tries to encourage donations that will make a meal: if you donate a can of tuna, grab a box of tuna helper as well, or a box of pasta and pasta sauce.