This Saturday, Sept. 19, all Rotary clubs in Haywood County will join forces and partner with Ingles to collect needed donations that will fill a depleted pantry.

Items collected will help Haywood County Schools children who may otherwise go without.

School social workers oversee a secure pantry in the Bethel community, which is used to store food, clothing and donations of all shapes and sizes to help the students who are in need in Haywood County.

But now that COVID-19 has affected so many families in the community, this pantry is nearly empty.

“We are lower than we’ve ever been and there’s been more families that have never asked for help that have had to ask for help now,” said Michelle Mull, a social worker who works within the school system.

As the pandemic stretches on, families are still in need of food and supplies, but the donations have not been coming in.

“Because of COVID-19, school has not been in session for six months, so the backpack programs and food collection programs that go on in many churches and by many community service groups has not happened,” said Tom Posey, a member of the Rotary Club of Haywood County. “With school not in session, a lot of students are not getting free lunch or breakfast, and we’ve got nothing to take them.”

To help combat this struggle, the Rotary of Haywood County, Waynesville Rotary Club and Waynesville Sunrise Rotary are taking action and are working with Ingles to re-stock this pantry. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Rotarians will be collecting needed items that will be brought to the pantry.

Ingles shoppers throughout Haywood County will notice a Haywood County School bus in the parking lot as well as local Rotary clubs positioned at the entrance accepting donations and handing out shopping lists of needed items. All items that are collected must be nonperishable since they will sit in a pantry.

The items on the shopping list to help Haywood students include shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, canned meat with a pop top, canned fruit with a pop top, canned vegetables with a pop top, canned pasta with a pop top, macaroni and cheese with a pop top, peanut butter, granola bars, Pop Tarts and laundry detergent.

Many of the donated items will be brought to students who live in the rural communities of Haywood County who do not have access to wifi. Many of the students who live in the rural areas also qualify for free and reduced lunch, and may be going without.

But after Saturday’s donation drive, when social workers, teachers and staff bring the assignments to their students in person, they will also be able to deliver food and toiletry items to the families.

Posey said this idea came to fruition when he contacted Superintendent Bill Nolte and asked how the Rotary Clubs could help. Also, the donation drive serves as a way to get the Rotary clubs back in action.

“We haven’t been able to meet in person and we needed to get our people back with boots on the ground,” Posey said. “This was a win win — it’s good for the Rotary clubs and it will replenish the food pantry. If this pandemic goes on a lot longer, we will have food to take them.”

On Saturday afternoon, the Haywood buses parked at each Ingles will be filled with donations and taken back to the school garage. On Monday morning, the Rotary Clubs will then unload the buses and stock up the school’s pantry.

As of early as next week, struggling families will be able to receive school work assignments as well as food they may need at home.

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