Decatur, Church Aim To Help Hungry Students

BERLIN – A new food pantry at Stephen Decatur High School is expected to help hungry students.

Each week, food items will be distributed to students who are referred by teachers or who enroll through the program’s online registration.

Lauren Sharkey, a guidance counselor at Stephen Decatur, said she and teacher Nicole Billetdeaux began exploring the idea for a food pantry service earlier in the school year.

“We have kind of been on our own when it came to helping the students who were hungry,” she said. “I think the word got out that ‘Hey, Mrs. Billetdeaux and Mrs. Sharkey have snacks if you need them.’ We began to think there were other teachers that were possibly doing the same thing. If we were all doing this on our own, we figured there could be an opportunity to pull our resources together.”

During this time, Sharkey said she was contacted by Donna Wheate, a coordinator with SonRise Church’s backpack ministry.

“This is a priority of our church,” she said, “to feed people in our community that are hungry.”

Wheate said the church’s backpack ministry began in 2010 and now serves between 75 and 100 students each week at Buckingham Elementary, Berlin Intermediate, Stephen Decatur Middle and Stephen Decatur High schools. She explained the bags are typically distributed each Friday and contain enough food and snacks to last the weekend.

“Forty-three percent of kids that have a need may not qualify for free and reduced meals …,” she said. “So this program is really important.”

Through the church’s partnership with the Maryland Food Bank, Sharkey said Stephen Decatur will be able to offer food pantry services throughout the school year. She added a donation bin will also be placed at the school.

“It will all go directly to the students,” she said.

And while the food pantry is just getting started, Sharkey said plans to help the students do not end there.

“The big goal is to have the pantry and work up to having something like a clothing consignment shop or a clothing exchange,” she said.

For more information on SonRise Church’s backpack ministry, visit Wheate said the church is currently seeking suppliers who can provide fresh fruits for the backpack program.

For more information on the school pantry, or to complete a registration form, visit

“Our job is to educate the whole student,” Sharkey said. “It’s just as important that they are well-fed and cared for, so they can come to class focused and ready to learn.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.