Cherokee High School on Thursday morning welcomed community leaders to celebrate the official opening of its new food pantry in partnership with MUST Ministries.

It’s the third food pantry supported by MUST to open in a Cherokee County school since the district partnered with the nonprofit organization to increase service to local families in need. The first to open was at Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy in Canton, and a second opened last month at Oak Grove Elementary School Fine Arts Academy in southwest Cherokee.

The Cherokee High School project is unique, Principal Todd Miller said, as it was proposed by student leaders.

“Today marks the start of a great opportunity for our families,” he said, noting that 27 of the school’s families in need will receive a backpack full of non-perishable food and household products from the pantry each week at no charge.

The students who proposed the food pantry all participate in the school’s Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy program, and representatives from the restaurant joined in today’s ribbon-cutting event. Assistant Principal Jeremy Adams said the idea shows the positive impact of student leadership and service programs in schools.

“These kids have a heart for service, for kids in this community and for the needs in this community,” he said. “This project has taught these kids to be even more grateful for what they have. This is just the beginning.”

The student leaders, led by Adams and Assistant Principal Liz Spell, are working to involve all of the school’s service clubs in the next step: creating a “care center” that will encompass the food pantry, expand the existing “clothes closet,” plant a school garden to offer fresh food to families, and more. This support, Spell said, is important to students and their families, sharing a story about how a mom recently broke down in tears upon learning of the help available to her.

MUST Ministries President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Dwight “Ike” Reighard, as he led the ribbon cutting, said it was clear to him that the students had found their “heartbeat” through the project.

The lesson of service to others, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said, is one he hopes every student learns.

“It’s not all about physics formulas and diagramming sentences – it’s about caring for the people around you,” Hightower told the students. “We’re proud of you.”

The converted supply room, which the Parent Teacher Association gave up to support the project, includes shelves of items that families will be able to choose from themselves to best serve their needs. It will be stocked with donations, many of which will be collected through MUST’s Save it Forward program. The program provides volunteers with shopping lists and associated store coupons to purchase needed items at considerable discounts. More information is available online or by calling MUST at 770-427-9862.

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