Local students participate in Lead2Feed program

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

A group of Stockbridge High School students has organized a major initiative to feed needy people in the area and will compete for a sizable award that could allow these young people to make even more of a local impact.

Dr. Josephine Jeganathan took a project for her AP biology students and “wanted to extend learning into the community,” according to Leigh Jackson, a fellow faculty member at Stockbridge. Her students have erected tower gardens and grown produce that is used to prepare food for the homeless.

Stockbridge High School students in Dr. Josephine Jeganathan’s AP Biology class have placed a tower garden on the campus of North Henry Academy to help provide food for the school’s homeless ministry. Special photo

Last year Jackson’s students in the school’s Food, Nutrition and Wellness program started a backpack project to help the homeless and ultimately won a $10,000 technology grant as well as an equal amount for a local church’s homeless ministry. Jackson is now part of the advisory board for Lead2Feed, the national organization that gave the awards.

“I reached out to everyone on the faculty,” Jackson said about encouraging other teachers to participate with a Lead2Feed project.” I knew it would fit with any of them.”

Jeganathan took advantage of that opportunity and found a company that sells tower gardens, structures with dimensions between four and six feet that use water, minerals and plant food to grow things without dirt. After using one with her biology students, the teacher made the decision to step out beyond the SHS campus.

“They wanted to put one of these in the community and let it benefit people,” said Jackson.

After putting together the funds to do that - much of it out of Jeganathan’s pocket - the students put a tower garden in place up the street at North Henry Academy, on the campus of North Henry Baptist Church (whose homeless ministry partnered with Jackson last year on the backpack project, which was featured in an Aug. 2016 edition of the Times). Affiliation with a local 501(c)3 organization is required for the Lead2Feed process, and North Henry Baptist was an easy choice because of last year’s success, Jackson said.

The Stockbridge students began teaching the younger NHA students how to operate the system, and they began harvesting crops and preparing food for those in need.

As the students see the self-perpetuating nature of the system, they learn that “just because the school year ends doesn’t mean these projects have to end,” as Jackson put it.

A typical tower garden, which includes a system of lights operating on its base, costs about $1,000. The students secured a $3,000 Bright Ideas mini-grant from Snapping Shoals EMC, allowing them to reimburse their teacher for the initial costs of the SHS unit, install a separate one at NHA and then purchase components for Jeganathan’s STEAM students to build one from scratch. That will give a whole other component to the learning process, which has already paid dividends in unexpected ways.

“A lot of our kids didn’t really know how good grows. They are getting a very realistic view of where food comes from,” said Jackson, adding that the produce coming from the project is quite delicious.

Jeganathan’s students just completed the first round of judging in the Lead2Feed competition and will know the results in mid-May. They were also featured in an Atlanta radio report recently on the city’s NPR station.

Meanwhile, Jackson and her students are at it again this year with their own Pennies for a Purpose project, supporting a feeding station at a school in Nairobi, Kenya. The person in charge of that program, who Jackson knows personally, supplies one meal each school day to students, generating 5,000 meals per month for about $1,000.

Jackson got the idea from what she saw on the floor at Stockbridge High School - pennies.

“Kids don’t like carrying change around. If they have pennies they will literally drop them on the ground,” she said. “I pick them up all the time.”

From that came the notion to “do something big with something very small,” as she put it. Her students raised enough money for 10,000 meals, and winning a larger prize could feed a lot of kids for a long time - not to mention the long-term impact it will have on the students here.

“If we can get more kids involved now it will last when they get out of high school,” said Jackson.