Say the word pantry and most people will probably think of food. But for those in need, hunger is only one issue to address.
For families struggling to make ends meet, basic personal-care items often also are needed.
The Grove City Bridges group has partnered with G.C. Gals, a local chapter of the Women's Life Insurance Society, to provide a personal-care pantry at Jackson Middle School.
The pantry provides items such as shampoo, soap, body wash, lotion, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and feminine hygiene products to students in need, said Warren Gard, area director for Grove City Bridges.
The Grove City group is a division of Neighborhood Bridges, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Personal-care items are important for a person's self-image, but that's especially true for middle school students, said Chris Emmerich, a member of the G.C. Gals who is helping to coordinate the pantry project at JMS.
"At that age, if you don't feel you're looking and feeling your best, it can have such an impact on your self-esteem," said Emmerich, who is a teacher at Alton Hall Elementary in the South-Western City School District.
Teachers and staff members at Jackson identify students in need and arrange for them to visit the pantry, Gard said.
School staff gets to know their students and the struggles they may be facing at home, Emmerich said.
"As teachers, a lot of us see some students from families that are transient or are facing hard times," she said. "We have families whose kids tell us they are sleeping on floors. They aren't asking for help. But if you have a way to help them and ask them, 'Could you use this or that?' they'll accept help."
The Grove City effort is modeled after a similar project conducted by the Westerville Bridges group.
"At the beginning of the 2017 school year, we installed eight personal care pantries in Westerville's three high schools, our online learning center and all four middle schools," said Rick Bannister, founder and CEO of Neighborhood Bridges. "We estimate that last school year, we were able to support about 1,000 students in Westerville."
The Dublin Bridges group is preparing to install personal-care pantries in all its buildings, and Westerville has expanded its program to 14 schools, he said.
Gard said he would like to expand the Grove City program to other South-Western schools.
"I've met with representatives from several local church groups, and I'm hopeful we can get their support and be able to extend our pantry project to other schools," he said. "We'd like to extend the program to all of South-Western's middle schools by the end of the year, pending the school district's approval."
The concept behind the Bridges program is to use social media and community outreach to address needs in the community, Gard said.
"There are a lot of groups and individuals in the Grove City area dedicated to serving the community," he said. "We're trying to serve as the bridge between the need and the organization that can help so we can extend their reach and get the need filled as quickly as possible."
The G.C. Gals group chartered in June 2015 and has about 25 active members.
"Our mission is to band together and help make a difference in the community," Emmerich said.
Previously, the group has focused on "one-shot efforts" to support organizations including the Ronald McDonald House and the Women's Care Center, she said.
"Partnering with Bridges on the personal-care pantry gives us an opportunity to do something that is a little more permanent and long-lasting," Emmerich said.
The supplies for the pantry are supplied equally by Bridges and the G.C. Gals, Gard said.
Community members are invited to donate newly purchased personal care items for the pantry, Gard said. Items can be dropped off at the Jackson Township Fire Department Administrative Office at 3650 Hoover Road during the week or 4125 Arbutus Ave. on weekends.
An organization or business interested in supporting a personal-care pantry may email Bridges at email@example.com.
Neighborhood Bridges launched in January 2017 in Westerville. In addition to Dublin and Grove City, there are chapters in Gahanna, Hilliard, Upper Arlington and Worthington.
More information about Neighborhood Bridges is available at www.neighborhoodbridges.org. The website includes a link to the programs in the individual communities.