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A student-led food pantry started last year has quickly grown into four Gaston County schools and counting.

The student-led Share A Meal pantry program aims to supply teenagers with high-protein foods to take home for as long as they need with little questions asked.

Program volunteers debuted Share A Meal at Hunter Huss High School in April 2019, and have since established pantries at Forestview, Ashbrook and, soon, East Gaston high schools, with hopes of setting up a pantry at Warlick Academy this year.

Forestview senior Laney Moran, the mind behind Share A Meal, and her family moved back to Gastonia in 2017 after moving to an Atlanta suburb in 2013.

“It was an area you wouldn’t think would need it,” Moran said. “When I moved back here, I knew it was something that was needed.”

Then a junior, Moran took her idea to Forestview Career Development Coordinator Heather Forbes and asked Forbes to advise the program. Moran impressed Forbes with a detailed plan.

“Which included what it was, why, how she was going to do it, the whole package. It was like a business plan. At the moment, I knew I absolutely have to do this,” Forbes said. “It’s awfully hard to focus on school when you’re wondering where your next meal’s going to come from.”

Moran’s mother, Jenny Moran, works for Crisis Assistance Ministry in Gastonia and hopped aboard Share A Meal as a strategic partner.

How it works

While the traditional canned-food drive goes a long way, Share A Meal gets the majority of donations through an Amazon wish list. Donors can log onto Amazon and purchase fruit bowls, macaroni and cheese, instant meals and more, priced between $2 to $24.

Each item is shipped directly to the Morans, and Jenny delivers the shipments to Crisis Assistance Ministry and stores them there. When a pantry needs stocking, advisers coordinate with the ministry to keep the food flowing.

Students in need confidentially express their need to their respective pantry adviser and are sent away with goods. Forestivew’s pantry operates in a room beside Forbes’ office within the media center.

“I let them in and I let them pick what they need,” Forbes said. “And as often as they need.”

The need

Moran and Forbes have learned a lot while supplying food to children, especially what tools families lack in their home. They’re always considering foods that are easy to consume with little preparation.

“It’s things you don’t think about,” Moran said. “We had a couple can openers in the beginning because people don’t even have a means to open cans. There was some microwavable food that had to be brought back because students didn’t have microwaves.”

Forbes knew the program would succeed, but as word gets out about each pantry, the popularity continues to surprise Forbes.

“We’re learning as we go and doing the best we can, but I feel like it’s really met the needs of more students than I would have imagined,” Forbes said.

At Forestview, Moran and Forbes believe students are spreading the word about the pantry, meaning more students are shaking their hunger insecurities and paying a visit.

“I’ve had pantry students bring their friends just to say, ‘this is Ms. Forbes. She can help you,’” Forbes said. “There’s some days I close my door after I’m done and I just want to cry because it is such an impact.”

What’s next?

Jenny doesn’t expect Share A Meal to expand into many more schools, since CAM’s current funding only allows it to partner with Gastonia schools. However, Share A Meal’s volunteers are continuing to refine the program and apply for grants. Share A Meal recently received a grant from the Next Generation Fund of the Gaston Community Foundation and hopes to score more.

Share A Meal kicked off its first Game on Food Drive, which runs until Feb. 14, between the four pantry schools. The schools are competing to collect the most pounds of food per student at their home basketball games.

The winning school’s basketball team will enjoy a catered meal from Terra Mia. One student at each school that donates at least five cans will be entered to win an authenticated autographed Steph Curry basketball.

Seniors from any high school can also order a personalized graduation yard sign from Share A Meal, made by Gaston Printing and Signs, which benefits Share A Meal.

Moran graduates in June, where she’ll move on to college to study nursing. So far, she’s been accepted to Kennesaw State University, Appalachian State University and University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Jenny expects her son, Carson, will fill the void and head the program.

“Carson has helped immensely,” Jenny said. “He’s the food packer, the Amazon carrier of those heavy boxes and he helps come up with the plan a lot. That was a family affair.”

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