When Samantha Mallahan came home during the COVID-19 pandemic from her freshman year at Vanderbilt University, she was looking for a way to give back.
The 2019 Loyola Academy graduate initially checked into volunteering at a few places that told her she could spend a couple of hours each week in places like soup kitchens.
“But I wanted to do something more than just give a few hours,” Samantha, of Northbrook, said.
So that’s when Henry Fetta, director of the Hunger Resource Network, a Northbrook-based nonprofit organization, reached out to her.
Fetta talked to her about getting involved with Hunger Free Northbrook, a program of Hunger Resource Network, and they brainstormed a little. From that came the Students Helping Students campaign that launched last summer.
They would collect items to help elementary and middle school students on the free- and reduced-lunch programs who already were receiving bags of food from Hunger Free Northbrook. This would be something extra. Samantha and her collaborators thought about what to include.
“Our initial thought was we wanted to make it fun — toys or games, or something that could be entertaining while people are at home during COVID,” Samantha said. “But that would be tough because of privacy, and not knowing who was getting them or their ages. So what would be widely applicable that we could give? That’s why we went with the basics. Something that would be useful to the student and their family, as opposed to a game we weren’t sure if they would like.”
So the campaign distributed a list to the community, asking for specific donations such as shampoo, conditioner, soap and toothpaste, plus snacks, too (practical, but still fun) and had them dropped off at Westmoor School one day last July. Volunteers aimed to collect 88 bags; they got more than 100.
Erin Nibeck of Northbrook, who just graduated from Glenbrook North, was involved last year and is leading the effort with Samantha this year, and working with the other high school and college students who are volunteering.
She first got involved with Hunger Resource Network because her mom was working with the organization through their church, Gloria Dei Lutheran. She had worked on food drives through student government at GBN as well.
“During COVID, (the student government) team was talking to the people at the food pantry, and they were saying how much greater the need was for food during the pandemic due to job losses and because the economy wasn’t so great,” said Erin, who is headed to University of Illinois in the fall and plans to major in architecture. “I started working with (Hunger Resource Network) last year and Students Helping Students over the summer, with Sam and a few other people. It was really successful, so we decided to do it again because we had so much community support.”
And that’s where the community can help: Students Helping Students are collecting for their campaign this year. Donations can be dropped off from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 25, at Westmoor School, 2500 Cherry Lane, Northbrook.
But there’s an even bigger goal this year: 160 bags. There are 400 students in Northbrook elementary and middle schools on the free or reduced lunch programs; Hunger Resource Network serves 160 of them, and Students Helping Students aims to give each of them a bag.
Samantha, Erin and Fetta all are quick to point out that the need for the program is great, because food insecurity is everywhere — even in places you might not expect. And yes, even in Northbrook.
“Even though we live in an affluent area, it’s easy to overlook people who struggle with food insecurity, and we need to help them,” Erin said. “It may not be prevalent, but it’s there, and I’m inspired to see the community coming together to help. Mutual aid is a big part of building community for me. Just having empathy for people — and showing that through action — is the best way to build community.”
For details, visit hungerresourcenetwork.org.
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What you need to know
• What: Students Helping Students donation collection
• When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 25
• Where: Westmoor Elementary School parking lot, 2500 Cherry Lane, Northbrook
• Why: There are almost 400 students in the Northbrook public schools who are on the free or reduced lunch program and are food insecure. Hunger Free Northbrook, a program of Hunger Resource Network — a Northbrook-based nonprofit organization — is currently serving 160 of the 400 students across the 12 public elementary and middle schools in Northbrook. Local college and high school students have decided to help these 160 students in a special way this summer.
How to help
• Purchase the list of essential household items found here and some fun snacks; please follow the contents and packaging guidelines (Fun Bag Contents). Total cost is $25-30.
• Bring the bag to Westmoor Elementary School on July 25
• Spread the word. We need your help to reach the goal of 160 bags!
• If you prefer to have us put the items together for you, no problem! Visit hungerresourcenetwork.org and click on the “Donate” button to contribute $25-30 for each bag. Please add “HFN-PCB” (for Hunger Free Northbrook-Personal Care Bag) in the comment section.
Personal care pack guidelines
• Please use double bagged brown paper shopping bags with handles. The contents have been pre-measured to fit in one bag to help with transport.
• Please follow the contents of the bag as requested. Although we appreciate everyone’s generosity, it is important that the contents be the same for all recipients.
• The estimated cost of the contents is $25 to $30.
• When choosing snacks/treats to include, please pick nonperishable items that do not contain peanuts and do not melt.
Contents: Shampoo, conditioner and body wash (Suave or equivalent); two-pack of deodorant; mouthwash; dental floss; two-pack of toothpaste; six-pack of toothbrushes; sunscreen; $3 to $5 worth of snacks of your choice.