Because October is national hunger month and the 16th marks the beginning of children’s hunger week, Warwick Veterans Memorial High School senior Jennifer Lemos, 16, wants everyone to know so they can help feed kids in need.
For her senior project, she will conduct a food drive from the 16th to the 21st at her school and at Park Elementary School in hopes of collecting more than 3,000 pounds of non-perishable food items, which will be donated to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
“It’s always been on my heart because my parents do a lot of donating,” Lemos said. “It was something that I was raised with. They’ve made donations to shelters and have done volunteer work, too. My family has been in need at times and I’m thankful to people who helped us out so I want to do the same for others.”
Lemos came up with the goal of 3,000 after doing research and discovering that the Food Bank will transport the food as long as a minimum of 2,500 pounds is generated. Since she does not have access to a truck, Lemos thought it made sense to shoot for 3,000.
But she also has another objective in mind. Spreading awareness is part of her mission, as well.
“I’ve learned a lot about the different programs out there and one of the solutions to childhood hunger is to get the word out about it,” Lemos said. “A lot of people don’t know that there are programs available for them. They don’t take part because they don’t know that they are out there. There needs to be more awareness.”
During the summer, she and her project mentor, Mary-Jo Younger, originally hoped to hold a bake sale through Share Our Strength, a national non-profit organization that fights to eliminate childhood hunger in America by 2015. However, Lemos and Younger soon figured out that wasn’t feasible.
“As Mary-Jo and I got into it, we realized there weren’t any places that we could hold a bake sale because they want you to pay insurance and it would have been a lot of money,” said Lemos. “We decided instead to have a food drive because food pantries like the Rhode Island Community Food Bank distribute food to families and children end up benefiting from it.”
Younger, who said she has been a friend of the Lemos family for “many years” contacted the Food Bank and arranged for Lemos to visit the facility so she could see how the program is conducted. Lemos also volunteered at other agencies, including the Amos House, throughout the summer.
“It’s been really great to go to different places and actually see the kids and the people that are running it and know that there are programs out there,” said Lemos. “People are trying to make a difference. Even though more needs to be done, at least there are people that care about it.”
Lemos said she decided to ask Younger to serve as her project mentor in May. She thought Younger would be a good fit because she has experience planning events, as she frequently organized various projects when her children were in elementary school.
“Jenny asked me if I’d like to do it and I thought it was a great idea,” said Younger. “We spent most of the summer getting research done and we’re really excited about it. She’s interested in children so we’re hoping that students involved realize that they are kids helping kids. I’m thrilled she’s grown into a wonderful young woman. She’s a sweetheart and this is a wonderful experience for her.”
Right now, Lemos is writing her research paper, which is due in December. So far, she has about four pages.
“I have to add in a lot of information from my mentor hours and the volunteering I did,” she said. “It will be much longer when I’m finished with it.”
While she’s not sure what she plans to major in when she heads to college in the fall, she’s thinking about enrolling at the University of Rhode Island or Rhode Island College. Either way, she’s sure of one thing: her affection for children.
“I’ve always liked children,” Lemos said. “I have a little brother and little cousins so I’ve always been able to handle them and get along with them well.”