For more than a decade, the Owl’s Nest food pantry at Westminster High School has provided students and community members alike the nourishment needed to succeed, while helping disabled students get real work experience.
The program received a $10,000 donation from the Weis Markets, as the number of people in need of food also grew in recent months.
Weiss has been among the food pantry’s long-standing partners, and the donation last December allows Owl’s Nest to order groceries, which the grocery store delivers to the school. Owl’s Nest is entirely volunteer- and donation-based, said Westminster High teacher Natasha Costley, who coordinates the pantry along with fellow teacher Katie McDonald.
“Since SNAP benefits were cut back, people are asking for more meats and more protein items,” Costley said. “They’re honestly looking for produce and fresh items too, which is kind of hard for us to keep in stock, so it stays fresh.”
About 10 families are regularly served by the pantry, McDonald said, but need is on the rise. Last week Owl’s Nest provided food for about 30 families, 10 of which were new to the program.
Costley said Owl’s Nest has been slowly chipping away at the Weiss donation, as the food pantry’s biggest one-time yearly expense is about $2,000 for Thanksgiving.
In addition to providing food for the hungry, Owl’s Nest presents valuable work experience to disabled students in the Learning for Independence program. Both Costley and McDonald teach LFI students, and Costley said learning the ropes of grocery store work is well-aligned with the LFI curriculum.
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“It’s been an awesome experience for them vocationally,” McDonald said, “because when they exit our program, they’re graduating with a certificate of program completion at the age of 21 instead of a diploma. So, it’s really nice that they get that work experience.”
Four of Carroll County’s nine LFI students fulfilled the career component of their employability and life skills class by volunteering at Owl’s Nest this year, McDonald said. Volunteers are responsible for greeting people, stocking shelves, carrying bags and informing recipients about food item limits.
“It’s a good job skill for our students,” McDonald said.
The opportunity to earn service-learning hours by volunteering at Owl’s Nest is available to all students, Costley said.
The duo became aware of Owl’s Nest when they partnered with the pantry to provide vocational experiences to their students. Costley and McDonald have been running Owl’s Nest since 2018 and are volunteers.
“I’m a person who has always been a helper,” Costley said. “I like to give back, and filling the basic needs of students allows them to be more successful in the classroom. Students should never go hungry. I believe that if we can start that at home by making sure they have what they need at home, we can set them up to be successful students and learners in the classroom — and the same goes for our community people.”
Owl’s Nest is open from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday at the Westminster High School portable classroom (1225 Washington Road) and by appointment by calling the school at 410-751-3630 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.