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Project creates grocery store experience for students

Ashbrook student’s project gives an opportunity for Webb Street students to learn job skills

Ashbrook High School student Eli Poulsen found an Eagle Scout service project that will have a long-lasting and meaningful influence at Webb Street School. 

Poulsen and Webb Street principal Chris Mills worked together to create a food pantry that will serve as a teachable moment for students and allow Poulsen to complete his Eagle Scout project.  “One Can Make A Difference” is the name of the food pantry that is run and operated by students in the vocational training classes.

“I was looking at service opportunities at Ashbrook High School when Dr. Rebecca Wilson (principal) told me about the food pantry,” said Poulsen. “Once I had the conversation with Mr. Mills, it was very motivating to know how this idea could contribute in so many ways.”

The food pantry is used by the school district’s social workers. When a need arises, the social workers place an order online, and students at Webb Street work to fill the order.  The process resembles an online grocery store experience where people order online and clerks do the shopping for the customers, who go to the store only to pick up their groceries.  

Poulsen designed what he called a can storage unit, and volunteers helped build and install 41 of them.  The units are used to shelve and organize the cans based on contents.  Each unit has a label such as “black beans” and “green beans” to identify the items.  The labels also include a picture symbol to accommodate for diverse learning needs. Students match up picture labels from an order that correspond to the items on the shelves and then place them in a box.

"I look at the list and match the picture of the item to what is on the shelf,” said Berenice Aguirre-Alcantar, who is one of the students in charge of running the food pantry.

Teacher Susie Rutherford is happy that the opportunity presented itself after her students were unable to experience real-world, off-campus job opportunities due to COVID-19.

“They understand that our food pantry is a volunteer job, and they’re not getting paid, but they also know the skills they’re learning can translate to them getting a job in the community,” said Rutherford. “We provide whatever support they need to pull the orders, but they’re in charge of filling the orders.”

For Kie-ajah Gibson, the food pantry provides motivation to be at school every day.  “I love coming to school,” she said. “I have to put all the items in a box.”

Chapel Grove Elementary school social worker Morgen Miller gave the students five stars for their hard work. “That was the most beautiful and smooth process ever,” said Miller after witnessing the students in action.  “It warmed my heart to see their smiles as they packed the box and loaded it into my vehicle.”

For the project, Poulsen earned his Eagle Scout rank.  “It feels great to have achieved this honor and helps me feel confident knowing that I can work hard to meet my goals,” said Poulsen, who will be recognized with other Eagle Scouts at a ceremony in November. 

The food pantry is one of the many job skills experiences available to students in the transitional classes.  Students also assist by planting and harvesting vegetables, maintaining the school’s sensory garden, and caring for the fish in the school’s aquaponics system. Furthermore, Rutherford’s students are folding weekly bulletins, packing personal care items, and bundling cards and brochures.

Anyone interested in supporting the “One Can Make A Difference” food pantry may donate canned and non-perishable food items to Webb Street School. For more information, contact principal Chris Mills or teacher Susie Rutherford at (704) 864-9667.