LAKE COUNTY, Ohio — It’s a harsh reality across the country. Some kids are only being fed in the school cafeteria. Feeding America found 17% of the children in Lake County were considered food insecure in 2017. That’s 8,220 kids. It was a reality check for some of the students at Perry High School in Lake County.
“I didn’t know there were so many kids that could go without meals over the weekend,” Katie Pietrzak, a senior, told News 5. Katie is part of a team of four high school volunteers who makes sure every child in the area can keep their bellies full over the weekend. It’s called the Pirate Power Pack Program.
Every Tuesday and Thursday the high school volunteers create an assembly line of service. They load up three dinners, two lunches, two breakfasts, and a snack into red packs. At the end of the week, the Pirate Power Packs are slipped into the backpacks of students in need.
The Perry Elementary School Principal, Arianna Neading, told News 5, “When they receive these packs at the end of the week, they’re super excited and they have the biggest smiles on their faces.” She said making sure kids don’t go hungry over the weekend could provide a brain boost, so they come back to school Monday morning ready to learn.
Parents in Perry Local Schools have the choice to opt-in or out of the program at any time. Sometimes a teacher or other school staffers might notice a child who could benefit from a Pirate Power Pack, and the team will send one home with instructions on how to sign up.
Allison Trentanelli is a teacher for Perry Service Learning, an elective for Perry High School seniors that combines English and social studies with volunteer opportunities. That’s where the senior volunteer team gets involved. Trentanelli said these kids aren’t just packing up bags twice a week. They manage the entire program. “They’re in charge of ordering the food, they’re in charge of managing the participants, they’re in charge of delivering the food every week,” she told News 5.
Of course, this is also a community effort. Trentanelli says parents in the community shop for the program, administrators will deliver bags as needed, and the local food bank, Perry Center of Lake County, pays for it.
“We looked to them for some guidance and mentoring; they turned around and gave us 100% financial support,” Trentanelli said.
Even elementary-age students are involved. Principal Neading said, “we actually have a thriving garden here at the school. Our third graders will go over and harvest foods to then donate to the Perry Center.” And the program is empowering senior volunteers. Katie doesn’t just want to implement the program, she wants to improve it, “like maybe find new foods to put in the power packs. Just like, I hope we can make it better than it already was.”
Neading told News 5 it all adds up to something pretty spectacular: “Our kids really believe that they can change the world.”
The Perry Power Park Program gets a lot of help from Perry Center of Lake County. You can help by making a donation to the food pantry.
This story is part of A Better Land , an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here .