Local church helps sustain meals for Diamond Ridge and Entrada schoolsAug 11, 2023 09:47AM ● By Julie Slama
Members of the St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church in Sandy regularly provide food and supplies for the three pantries at Diamond Ridge and Entrada high schools. (Photo courtesy of Beverly Bartel/St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church)
Every week, volunteers unload granola bars, oatmeal, peanut butter and other easy to eat food items at Diamond Ridge and Entrada high schools.
These steady donations, along with additional supplies from the Utah Food Bank, support three food pantries — one at each school and one for the community.
“We had drive-up bags during COVID, but we had our schools’ pantries before that,” said the schools’ Kevin Shaw, who along with Cheri Prince, coordinates the food supplies. “The need we have here is ongoing.”
At least 1,300 individuals get food monthly, according to a self-reporting account that indicates the number of people who are getting food as well as their age group. Names or reasons why the food is needed are not asked. An estimated 135 snack packets are distributed each week.
“Everybody has a need at one time or another or they forget their lunch or need help with a meal,” Prince said about those who are experiencing food insecurity. “We all have a time when we need a helping hand.”
Diamond Ridge serves about 150 high school students who attend the alternative high school. About 800 adults, many who are not native English speakers, attend Entrada to earn their GEDs. The schools also have showers available for their students in need, and often have personal hygiene and cleaning items available.
Community volunteers also bring bagged meals so students can pick them up to have during fall, winter and spring breaks. These volunteers are members of the St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church congregation in Sandy.
The partnership began in 2020, when Canyons School District invited church leaders to meet with them about the students’ need. The Greek church’s Father Anthony Savas was one of two religious leaders who attended the meeting; and he explained his church’s vision about wanting to serve the community long-term. Church members already were distributing food items periodically at Copperview Recreation Center, but 11 months later, the pantry closed.
That’s when the concentrated effort to become a sustaining source for Diamond Ridge and Entrada flourished.
“It doesn’t take a massive amount of people to start something,” he said. “We’re not trying to change the world; we’ve just been trying to be an impact in our neighborhood.”
In the past, the church has held food drives, but Savas envisioned more of a long-term relationship.
“Food drives come and go and then you kind of forget about it. But kids go to school every day and there needs to be resources for them every day. Hunger doesn’t just come with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even in the summer when kids aren’t in school, these schools still help provide food. So, we tried to introduce a concept of every time you come to church, bring a case, bring a can of something. Let this be just part of the essence of walking through this door. Let’s have an awareness of need of kids around the corner, in our neighborhood,” he said.
St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church serves as a collection site. On Tuesdays, a blue bin is placed outside their church, 9201 S. 1300 East, for the community to drop off donations.
“We want to sustain this; we started with doing it ourselves, making sure our members knew about it. We put it in the bulletin, we made announcements. Once it became a part of our worship, we invited the community to help with donations. Our members contact the schools, organize the donations and make the weekly delivery to Diamond Ridge and Entrada. We’re not the only folks who contribute food there, but we consistently donate along with the Utah Food Bank,” Savas said. “Someone is always hungry, and we want to make sure there is food.”
At times, church members do more. When there is a spike in food insecurity, they have met the need providing additional grab-and-go meals.
“The other day, we had all hands-on deck. Three or four times, we’ve provided weekend packs when they know a certain number of their students who are homeless are in need. We put those together in addition to our program, trying to fill the list of requested nutritional food that people can dip into it. But with these additional requests, there’s an immediacy, let’s get it done,” he said.
Savas said it’s heart-warming to help feed the students and their families.
“It’s important because it’s making a difference — starting right here in Sandy. We’re here in the neighborhood, and it means something to somebody. It’s also important to us because we opened here in 2020 and this is our first permanent home, so we’re wanting to contribute to our community,” he said. “I’ve been to their pantries and have learned the challenges some students face — some more than anyone should — and here they’re getting a 3.8 GPA and carving out a life. You really get inspired by the stories and it shows the issues they face day in and day out, sometimes without much assistance. Then, on top of it, they’re just trying to figure out if they’ll get food. As we do more, we’ve become more aware of students who are here from all over the world. We want to provide familiar food that will make them feel comfortable and fulfilled.”
Savas said much of the management of the church’s contributions falls under their outreach ministry team, which serves to help the community from hosting blood drive to dispersing funds to local charities. They’ve also helped seniors during the holidays.
“There’s always a concentration for children to be remembered at Christmas, but we didn’t want grandparents to be forgotten either. Whether it’s a school, a drive, or it’s helping with resources, this leadership group organizes our outreach efforts. These people are highly aware and sensitive to the needs of others. We all try to be the body of Christ and do good in this world and try to bring comfort and joy whenever possible. This team is very committed and very active here,” he said, adding that chairwomen Ann Sasich and Kathy Shand coordinate the food support program; committee members include Beverly Bartel, Joanne Dokos and Ron Steele.
Sasich said their partnership has blossomed as both the schools and church have gotten more established in their new homes. Diamond Ridge and Entrada moved into their current home, the former Bell View Elementary, in August 2022 to better serve students.
“It’s been an inspiring, productive and meaningful relationship since we started in similar places,” she said. “We were a fledgling parish, and their pantry was small. As their enrollment increased, their needs for food multiplied, and at the same time, we grew. We became part of their support system for ongoing community donations of non-perishable food. Seeing our parishioners actively involved and feeling fulfilled while making a positive impact is gratifying. Now, we serve as a food collection site, so anybody can drop off donations to help these students in need.”
Sasich foresees more service opportunities in the future.
“One thing about having an ongoing partnership is that we can go deeper into the relationship so as the needs evolve or if urgent needs come up. As Diamond Ridge and Entrada get more familiar with who we are and what we can do, then they can tell us more needs they have. It may be giving them more hygiene packets or maybe it’s a need for books, but we want to have a meaningful and rewarding opportunity to provide them what is needed and what we’re doing. We are committed to making a difference,” she said.
Consistently, the church committee shares with the congregation about the ongoing food insecurity.
“Father mentions it from the pulpit; we put it in the church bulletin, and it’s shared by the different leaders in our ministries. We do updates on what’s happening, who’s being served, how things have changed, what the impact has been on students, their families and the community members. When an urgent need comes up, it’s an opportunity to have somebody from the school pantry share more about their needs and what this donation process results in. It’s a mutual benefit. It’s meaningful for the people who are served, and it’s meaningful for the people who serve,” she said. “It’s the best of both worlds. It’s just beautiful.”
The community pantry is open from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Thursday. Enter through Diamond Ridge High School, 9800 S. 800 East, in Sandy. λ