Walking beside a couple, Mitchell McCormick carried a box.
When the man and woman had selected all of the food they needed, a Ziploc bag containing shampoo, body wash, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, deodorant and combs was placed on top of the items in the box.
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As they made their way out of Brownstown Central High School, McCormick asked, “Did you get everything you needed today?” After they said they did, McCormick continued with small talk, “It’s nice out there today.”
McCormick didn’t know the couple before their brief interaction, but they became like friends or family.
Similar interactions continued as he and three other students involved in the school’s iGrad program helped clients visiting the school’s food pantry.
“You could tell they’ve got a lot of struggles in their life, and we want them to feel welcome and a place that they can get what they need,” the sophomore said. “You want to make sure they are not upset, they are in a good mood. I always tell them to have a nice day and enjoy it. It’s a good day outside. It’s warm.”
That kindness can go a long way.
“I just hope to lift them up out of if they are down in the slumps or upset, put a smile on their face because not every day they get to go through this and get food and get things they need,” McCormick said.
He got something important out of the project, too.
“Just the satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped somebody,” he said.
This was McCormick’s second year in a row helping with the pantry, and it was iGrad’s third time making the gift bags.
Once again, iGrad coach Kate Shoemaker reached out to school staff members to donate toiletries for the bags. The 43 students involved in the program wound up with enough items to make 40 bags.
“One teacher made it bonus points for kids, and then other teachers, I would just walk in in the morning and there would be stuff on my desk,” Shoemaker said. “I’ve gotten asked before from other people at the beginning of the school year when we’re doing it.”
A bonus this year was receiving donations of toothbrushes and toothpaste from iGrad coach Kaitlyn Ude’s mother, who works at a dentist’s office.
Freshman Bailey Davis said she appreciated the opportunity to help put the bags together and hand them out.
“I like doing something that’s just small and makes a huge difference in someone’s life,” she said. “Maybe they don’t have a toothbrush, but something little like that, that can make someone’s day and boost up their confidence. Seeing that might motivate them, ‘Oh, I can start doing this again. I can start getting back to where I was.’”
While she admits she was a little anxious about helping at the food pantry, that went away when she saw how much the clients appreciated the gift bags.
An interaction she and freshman Andrew Alvey had with a client stood out.
“We talked to someone who used to foster kids like him, and I could tell the female was a little upset, and I kept asking if she was OK,” Davis said. “You could tell little things like asking someone how they are, even if they say, ‘Oh, I’m fine,’ it still makes their day that you even thought to ask, like, ‘Hey, you do care. They are not just doing this to do this. They are doing this because they actually care.’”
Alvey said helping at the food pantry made an impact on him because he once was in need of food and clothing.
“I know what it’s like because I used to be in that place, and I’m actually getting ready to go back into that place,” he said. “When I was living with my grandma, we didn’t have money, food and we couldn’t get all of that, so helping could give back to people that I used to be like.”
It also made him feel good hearing positive feedback from the clients.
“There was this one person who was like, ‘Just be the best you can be, and you’ll succeed at whatever you want,’” Alvey said. “You get a lot of nice comments from people.”
Senior Chris Spellman also got a lot out of helping with the food pantry for the first time.
While he said his arms hurt a little from carrying the heavy boxes, it was a good thing because he knew he made a difference in other people’s lives.
“I’m pretty sure I made a couple people’s day,” he said. “A little small talk can go a long way and just make them happy and make them feel welcome. They get to fill their belly with free food, so that’s always good.”
Besides feeling good inside, Shoemaker said the volunteer opportunity is beneficial for the students because can put it on their résumé or 21st Century Scholar or college application.
She liked standing nearby and watching the students interact with the clients.
“It’s like they have that natural instinct to do it,” she said. “I really didn’t worry if they were going to do well or not because I knew that they were going to help out. They were asking questions. They wanted to make sure that they knew what they were doing before it got started.”
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Brownstown Central High School hosts a community food pantry from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the school, 500 N. Elm St., Brownstown.