Ardmore High School is holding two supply drives this month, one for students and another for the community.
The school holds an annual food drive at the high school, where the four classes compete against each other to see who can collect the most food. Family Consumer Science Teacher Robert “Chef” McGehee said this year the school is also holding a community drive for items like hygiene products and school supplies, which the AHS food pantry and supply closet, dubbed the Tiger Hut, sorely needs.
Sabra Emde, the homeless coordinator for the district, said the high school’s food pantry had a budget of $80 a month after the Oklahoma Food Bank made cuts last year. This year, that budget was raised to $120.
“I’m not real sure why everyone’s budget was cut,” Emde said. “I made a simple request, and it took a couple of months for them to come back and say ‘Okay, we’ve increased it.”
The class of 1997 donated a large supply of hygiene items last month, but the pantry is down to a single box of 18 tampons. For boys, travel-sized shaving cream cans are always in high demand.
“Hygiene items go really, really fast,” Emde said. “When I travel and stay in a hotel, I hoard the soaps and shampoos and throw them in the basket.”
Agencies like the food pantry use the budgeted money to buy bulk foods from the food bank directly, rather than using the money to buy food from a regular store. Emde then picks up donations at the Food and Resource Center of South Central Oklahoma.
“They receive the donations, then it’s priced based on what it would take for them to package and ship it,” Emde said. “There’s a shopping list on the website.”
Roughly 25 students are regulars, though the number can vary from week to week.
“I find that around the time SNAP benefits are reloaded, one or two may not come because they have food at the house,” Emde said. “A few weeks later, that’s when they start showing up.”
Some foods come individually packaged, while others require prep work before it’s sent home with kids. The Tiger Hut also carries donated clothing for students who need it, along with some formal wear and winter jackets.
The holidays, when students are out of school for a full two weeks, pose a unique challenge. She said she sends extra food home with kids who rely on the hut, and local organizations donate restaurant gift cards for middle and high school students who are considered unaccompanied and homeless. This year, 32 students will receive the cards.
“That’s two full weeks that the kids don’t have breakfast and lunch up at the school, reliably,” Emde said.
Middle school students are sent home with pre-packed bags, but at the high school, students are trusted to pick out what they’ll need for a weekend.
“I do it differently because the kids know what they need,” Emde said. “They also know their ability to prepare a meal, whether or not they have electricity, a stove, a microwave at home.”
The food pantry has a surplus of canned vegetables at the moment. Emde said that while they can be useful, they can’t make a full meal the way a can of pasta or chili can. She also asked that community members donate something other than peanut butter, even though it’s a common donation item, due to allergy concerns.
“Ms. Emde mentioned she needs more boxed items like macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper, canned pasta and things like that,” McGehee said. “This year, we’re trying to change it up a bit. Maybe some canned fruit would be good, but vegetables, we have a lot.”
Toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, feminine hygiene products, shaving cream, deodorant, pens, pencils and paper are all in demand. Someone can also opt to add their donations to the school drive to help the class of their choice beat out the competition.
The hut is also collecting formal wear donations for the winter formal scheduled for this Saturday. He said the school usually receives a solid number of donations around prom season, but not for the winter formal.
Both drives will continue until December 21.