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Creating a Caring Cabinet for Necessities

SkillsUSA Pennsylvania students gave their time and energy to help their fellow students at school
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Pictured from L-R: Malea O’Neill, William Schaeffer and Tanner Mayne.

Last school year, SkillsUSA students at A.W. Beattie Career Center in Allison Park, Pa. came up with an idea for a community service project to provide food and hygiene items free of charge for students attending the school. Malea O’Neill, a senior Advertising Design student, William Schaeffer, a senior Sports Medicine student and Tanner Mayne, a sophomore Carpentry Building Construction student were the lead project team members.

“We started off by polling the student body and found out that about 20% of our 1,100 students do not have enough food or hygiene items at home,” says SkillsUSA advisor and Advertising Design Instructor Heather Brown. “You can’t become a professional when you’re distracted by things like hunger or not getting a shower today. Also, about 40% of our students receive free and reduced lunch.”

The students decided they would like to gather food and hygiene items and build a cabinet, they dubbed the “Caring Cabinet” to store them. “Other teachers involved in the project were the Carpentry Building Construction instructor John Brown and the Sports Medicine instructor Darren Vtipil,” says Brown.

Mayne and the Carpentry Building Construction class drew a blueprint, ordered the materials/supplies and built the cabinet from scratch.

Schaeffer used his knowledge of nutrition to help decide the healthiest options for the students to grab and go. “One of the things that we considered to be different about this project was the fact that we were bringing our individual expertise into it. With the health and nutrition knowledge I had from my class, I was able to find us the most nutrient-dense, shelf-stable foods that we could use to stock the cabinet,” he says.

O’Neill used her advertising knowledge to create branding and a social media campaign. “This was such an important project because we didn’t realize the need that was actually in our area and in our own building until we really started looking at the statistics that were in front of us and saw some of the responses from our classmates,” she says.  

To stock the cabinet, the students created an Amazon wish list, and they reached out to local businesses and alumni members and asked them to donate funds or pick from the wish list items. The items were then shipped directly from Amazon to the school. The students initially gathered 1,850 products, worth approximately $500.

The cabinet was put in a centrally located part of the building just outside of the main lobby, in a private area where it’s inconspicuous so that students can access it without being seen. It is stocked with hygiene items like shampoo, deodorant and soap and food items like microwavable macaroni and cheese, trail mix, granola bars and dried fruit. The students also included a QR code inside of the cabinet so students can give feedback if they would like to request other useful items.

“There is such a need and it’s been so popular that we’re constantly replenishing it,” says Brown. “Teachers have reported that their students are coming to class more alert because they have had breakfast.”

“This was honestly my first experience with SkillsUSA or in taking on anything of this magnitude,” says team member Mayne. “Overall, I think it was a great project and it’s nice to know we helped students in our own school.

“It has been decided that the school’s SkillsUSA officers will keep the project going each year,” says the SkillsUSA advisor, Heather Brown. “I’m so glad we did this! When these students first started deciding what kind of community service project they wanted to do, I was genuinely impressed that they began by looking around their own classrooms. A lot of students their age may not even consider the silent needs that are right in front of them and the idea that they recognized that was fantastic. To me, that’s what real leaders are made of.”

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