MANATEE -- Cassandra Copp, 13, remembered a time when she and her two brothers sat crying on their couch, terrified about where they would find their next meal.
They were about to move into a shelter. Their mom, who was at the time without a car, could not find a job.
“It was really hard seeing my mom cry,” the Samoset Elementary student recalled. “She’s thinking to herself what a bad parent she is, but she’s not.”
The story left Morgan LaMarc, a student at Lakewood Ranch’s Nolan Middle School, and her friends “shocked.”
“We knew this was happening, but we didn’t know it like this,” LaMarc said.
LaMarc is among a group of Lakewood Ranch teens who have decided to tackle the problem of childhood hunger by helping Samoset Elementary.
The teens are part of a group called Future Problem Solvers, which has members not only at Nolan Middle, but Lakewood Ranch High and Southeast High.
“We learned that one in four children in Manatee County is hungry,” said Madelyn Kumar, also 13. “So we started a canned food drive at Nolan and Lakewood Ranch.”
Every morning last week, from 8:30 to 9:05 a.m., the Future Problem Solvers held signs at the two schools’ student drop-off areas, appealing to parents to contribute food to Samoset.
By Friday, the group had collected 1,003 food items. And on Monday morning, the group delivered the food to Samoset’s new food pantry, created by Assistant Principal Mike Kelley.
The pantry will be used throughout the school year to help Samoset’s neediest kids and their families, which includes at least 15 families identified as homeless.
“We need nonperishables, of course,” he said. “And as nutritious as you can get with nonperishables. We also need stuff that’s easy to prepare, because we do have families whose electricity gets shut off.”
The adults helping to coordinate the relationship among Nolan Middle, and Lakewood Ranch and Southeast high schools see the effort as a chance to bring two disparate parts of Manatee County together.
“It’s a great way to bridge the gap between out east and out west in our county,” said Kristen Cunningham, a teacher at Nolan Middle. “This is a neat new idea to bring the two parts of our community together.”
Two students involved in the food drive are already aware of how misunderstood East Manatee is.
Danny Shevlin and Connor Yaryura, both Lakewood Ranch residents who attend Southeast High because of its International Baccalaureate program, said they’ve noticed needs similar to Samoset’s at their school.
“I can see people struggling,” Danny, 15, said. “Some don’t even eat lunch.”
“A lot of kids don’t have a good home environment,” Connor, also 15, said. “A lot of my friends go to McDonald’s to do their homework because of distractions at home.”
Both Samoset and Southeast High are located in a part of Bradenton known for low-income residents who are struggling to meet daily needs. Cassandra said she sees kids from her neighborhood wearing the same clothes to school every day; some aren’t even in school, she said, and instead are on the street with their mothers.
The Future Problem Solvers are already pondering how to help with even more of the neighborhood’s needs, said Debra Yaryura, the group’s adult coordinator. They are contemplating a possible clothing drive, as well.
Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @chawesreports and by blog at www.learningcurvebradenton.blogspot.com.