The shelves at Mother’s Cupboard are full for now, thanks to donations from Brown County Schools students and staff.

Last week, Van Buren Elementary School students delivered 1,800 items to the food pantry — nearly double their goal. Later the same day, the Brown County Junior High School student council dropped off 1,500 items; and in October, the Brown County Intermediate School student council also contributed a load.

“We were getting kind of low on some of our supplies, and when the school does things like that, it’s really a blessing to us,” said Mother’s Cupboard Executive Director Sherry Houze. “Our shelves are really packed. That’s good for the Thanksgiving season.”

Van Buren third-grader Ayden Jackson personally collected 192 of the school’s 1,800 food items. Second-grade teacher Debbie Neptune said Jackson had been originally collecting for his Cub Scout troop, but when the troop disbanded, he chose to use his charity donations to buy food for Mother’s Cupboard. “He loves people and the community. That’s just the type of kid he is,” Neptune said.

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She and second-grade teacher Cynthia Baughman have led the school’s partnership with Mother’s Cupboard. Baughman’s class collected 645 items, and that was the class that got to drop off the donations Nov. 20.

Van Buren staff also collected $145, which was given to Mother’s Cupboard.

School staff give of their time as well. The last two Mondays of the month, Van Buren teachers, custodians and secretaries serve meals and give out groceries at the community kitchen and food pantry.

The volunteer opportunity came about last year when Brown County Schools Director of Student Services Al Kosinski visited Van Buren, asking for volunteers to help cover shifts that the Rotary Club of Brown County couldn’t. Kosinski is also a member of the Rotary.

“After we came here, even after the first time, we were really humbled by the lack of pantry items and the amount of people that came through,” Neptune said.

“Then we saw some of our families from Van Buren come out, so we were like, ‘Oh my gosh. There’s really a need.’”

Neptune leaves early from school those two Mondays so she can get to Mother’s Cupboard and prep for meals before the doors open at 4 p.m. Then, two or three other Van Buren volunteers come over to help out front. “We fill in where Rotary can’t. If they can’t make their Mondays, then they call us and then we come in and fill in,” Neptune said.

VBE Principal Gavin Steele said he is impressed with the staff who have been supporting this initiative from “the ground up.”

The students are also being impacted. “I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations about kindness and paying it forward. It ties really well into this food drive. Students are seeing this is just one way to show kindness,” Steele said.

As a reward for students exceeding their goal, Steele has promised to dress up as an old woman, “Old Mother Hubbard,” Neptune said. He will present his new look at the school assembly in December.

Houze said Mother’s Cupboard takes a “little bit of everything” in order to provide a variety to clients. Soups are always needed during the winter. Cereals, peanut butter, loaves of bread and milk are all items the pantry can use.

During the holidays, donations tend to be higher, but they taper off around February and don’t begin to pick up again until May or June, Houze said. During that time, volunteers and food item donations are needed the most.

“We stay busy as far as our clients go year-round,” Houze said.

The number of hot meals served ranges between 3,000 and 4,000 each month. People who take meals also are invited to go to the pantry to pick up additional groceries.

“People who think anything they bring to us isn’t used, they are wrong, because this stuff goes out fast as it comes in, just about,” Houze said.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Mother’s Cupboard was able to give out turkey raffle coupons to folks who ate meals there. Last year, the pantry was able to give away 19 turkeys, but with the help of the community, that number jumped to 31 this year.

Winners received not only a turkey but also a bag of groceries that contained all of the ingredients for a Thanksgiving dinner. Winners also received a half-gallon of milk and a half-dozen eggs.

“The clients were absolutely thrilled. Some of them would come in and say, ‘Here’s my winning ticket. I never win anything.’ I’m like, ‘Today is your lucky day.’ They’re just like, ‘I am going to fix dinner for the family and probably have neighbors over too that don’t have any place to go,” Houze said.

“It makes you feel good we were able to provide that to at least 31 people.”

Want to help?

VOLUNTEER: Visit the Mother’s Cupboard Facebook page, “Mother’s Cupboard Community Kitchen, Inc.,” to see openings in the volunteer schedule. Call executive director Sherry Houze at 812-929-9211 to verify the date is still open and she will let volunteers know what is needed of them on that day. People interested in volunteering also can call Houze directly to learn of openings. Volunteer cooks and servers often are needed on weekends.

DONATE: Food donations can be dropped off at Mother’s Cupboard on Memorial Drive (the fairgrounds) in Nashville between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Houze prefers if food donations come before the doors open to clients at 4 p.m. to give staff time to take and record the donations. Bread, milk, cereal and peanut butter are some of the most-needed items.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.