FORSYTH COUNTY — One classroom in Forsyth County was transformed into a free grocery store Wednesday and Thursday, open only students and their families who may not otherwise have food over the holiday break.
With two hours left in the Longhorn Food Drive, about 172 families with an average of five kids each walked through the Almon C. Hill Educational Center. More poured in by the minute.
The Lambert High School student council had collected 15,502 non-perishable items to donate to homeless and at-need families.
“For these kids, the meals they get at school a day is it,” said Jamie Rife, homeless liaison for Forsyth County Schools.
Since 2010, Rife said, this annual event has collected more than 50,000 items.
Families were allotted 40 items, distributed among various types of canned vegetables, fruit, pasta, tuna and juice. But rules were bent, of course, when a child wanted a juice box while they waited.
Many of the homeless families in the county live in hotels and don’t know what they next day will bring, said Rife, who taught Spanish at North Forsyth Middle and High schools before becoming a graduation coach at Liberty Middle. This is her first year as the county’s homeless liaison.
Some families are in the school district’s Title I program, which provides free and reduced meals to students, and simply need food to last through the winter break.
There was also a neighboring classroom piled with stacks of donated winter clothes. Rife knew many of the visitors, and their children’s needs, personally.
“I don’t think people recognize the need we have in this county,” said Maureen Wareham, a retired school counselor for the district.
Wareham said what sets this food drive apart from others is that the recipients can pick out what they want, instead of being handed a care package.
“They know what their kids will eat,” she said. “And it gives them their dignity back.”
Wareham, who worked at North High for 14 years and West for seven, has volunteered for at-need students and the homeless before, but this was the first year she met with Rife to help with the Lambert food drive.
“This is where my heart is,” Wareham said, “in this kind of work.”