PWHS senior dedicated 20% project to feeding the hungry

In Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS) English classes, seniors complete a "20% project" — a self-guided effort that involves exploring a passion, researching a topic or solving a problem. PWHS Class of 2020's Kelli Coles decided to dedicate her 20% project to solving the problem of hunger by setting up a grab-and-go food bank at the high school.

high school girl wearing mask and carrying two large bags of groceries

PWHS Senior Kelli Coles heading to a home in Philadelphia with bags of donated food.

She met with Principal Dr. Jason Bacani, Colonial School District Food Services Director Lori McCoy and the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSO) to determine a location and arrange for donations and volunteers. She also worked with Donna Drizin, principal at Whitemarsh Elementary School, to start a month-long food drive there. 

However, just as all of the pieces were coming into place, the pandemic hit.

"Initially, schools closed for two weeks, and I had decided that my project could still be completed but on a very tight schedule," said Kelli. "As the stay-at-home order was pushed back farther and farther, I decided to change my project to be completed at home but in a way that could still help the community."

At the time, Colonial Neighborhood Council (CNC) was fairly well stocked and only requesting hearty soups, so Kelli partnered with a teacher who works at Richard Wright Elementary in Philadelphia. The teacher explained that many of their parents were feeling overwhelmed with financial issues and worried that they couldn't provide basic needs for their families. 

Kelli's original plan centered on collecting food donations for the month of April. Thanks to an online wishlist and the generosity of friends and family, she was able to keep that same timeline for her redirected efforts.

"The most surprising thing about the project was watching all the donations come in," she said. "I received more donations than I had ever expected; every day for about three weeks truckloads of donations came in with crates full. I would have never anticipated such a big response, and I'm grateful that it turned out the way that it did."

Kelli collected enough food for 20 families in Philadelphia, as well as for a handful of students at Cheyney University who were unable to return home due to the pandemic. The senior was also able to drop off more than 100 cans of soup and 30 pouches of tuna at the CNC and make a donation to a Philadelphia soup kitchen.

Delivering the food to the families was her favorite part of the project. 

"The children lit up as they saw some of their favorite snacks and foods being brought to them, and it brought me joy to know that at least one child did not go to sleep hungry that night," said Kelli. "My dad always says, 'hunger has no face,' and it was proven because you see these people who work very hard to make ends meet, but they just needed that extra help that I was happy to give." 

Kelli would like to thank her mom Shawanna Coles, Sheree Paul, and the many generous donors who contributed to her project.