January 27, 2022 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

SJO student creates program to help the food insecure

Kirsten Schaefer wants to help feed her neighbors.

Schaefer, a junior at St. Joseph-Ogden High School, created the Feeding Your Neighbors program. Schaefer got the idea for the program after one of her friends told her that they didn’t have enough money to afford food.

“They continued to explain how they don’t like using their government subsidized lunch at school because when the weekend or breaks come, their body is used to getting food, but they don’t have it,” Schaefer said. “They seemed to think nothing of having to buy their own food with their own money, meaning that it has probably been a reality for a long time. This crushed my heart and I knew that I wanted to make a change.”

So she did.

Schaefer created a program with local restaurants where residents can go to Scratch, El Toro, The Ribcage and Roch’s Place and tell their server they need a free meal. A meal, that has been previously purchased by a restaurant patron, is then given to the resident free of charge.

Schaefer said she was surprised by how high the rate of people that are food insecure in St. Joseph truly is.

“I have grown up in a family blessed enough financially that we never have to worry about paying for food, meaning I had never been exposed to the harsh reality,” she said. “I was glad that my sociology class presented me with an opportunity to learn more, and seeing these statistics motivated me even more.”

In order to receive a free meal, a code word is needed.

“In order to prevent people who do not really need a meal from redeeming one for free, I have been distributing a code word to the people in need,” Schaefer said.

The SJO school resources officer, Officer Shawn Hallett, has helped Schaefer distribute the password to the students most in need at the high school. Schaefer also distributed the code word at a Feed the Need event in Saint Joseph.

“In order to keep this anonymous, they tell the server the code word, and the server will take care of it from that,” Schaefer said. “Veterans can also get a free meal by showing their Veteran’s ID.”

To help the program, restaurant patrons can donate at any of the participating restaurants.

Schaefer said she was nervous talking to the restaurant owners, but they all quickly agreed to participate in the program.

“I did not know how open-minded they would be to an idea from a teenager, but I was very appreciative of their all-positive reactions,” Schaefer said. “They all said yes as soon as I explained the concept and were just waiting for me to bring them a plan.”

Schaefer said she has received support from her family and friends to start the program but she needs the public to donate to the project for it to continue.

“I have been through my fair share of medical problems, and my community has been here for me, always bringing a smile to my face,” Schaefer said. “`When I saw an opportunity to repay the community, I decided to take it and leave my mark. This project started out doing it purely for others, but I have gotten an immeasurable amount of joy from talking to the restaurant owners and hanging up signs and just knowing that I am making a change. “

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