News Detail

St. Margaret’s School and Church Partner in Infant Pantry for All-School Service Learning Project

St. Margaret's all-school service learning project was embraced by the entire school community, which quickly mobilized to serve local families with young children while learning more about community needs. 
When determining the important community needs and a partner organization for St. Margaret’s Episcopal School’s annual spring all-school service learning project, the service learning leadership team looked no further than the newly created Infant Pantry program of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.
The Infant Pantry was launched last summer to further support local families with young children. The Pantry offers the everyday infant care essentials, like diapers, formula, wipes, bath and medicine cabinet items on a monthly basis. Through Upper School advisory partnerships and schoolwide supply drives at Christmas, the school quickly adopted the Infant Pantry as an official community service partner in the fall. 
“Our Episcopal identity, mission and core values are deeply rooted in our partnership with St. Margaret’s Church. We recognize and value the work they do serving our local community, specifically families with young children, and look for ways to elevate our partnership and continually support the efforts at the core of their work,” said Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem, who oversees the school’s service-learning program.
“The Church has rapidly grown the program since last summer, expanding its operation month over month to meet these essential needs of local families. When Father Rob shared the growth and demand they are observing, we said, ‘yes, we are all in with you’ and made it the focus of our annual service learning project,” he said.
Since the Pantry’s first distribution date in September, the Church has scaled to meet the growing number of families the program reaches and the ongoing infant supplies they need. Through eight distributions to date, the Infant Pantry has served 748 families with more than 1,100 infants.
The school’s project was announced in March at the all-school spring chapel, and every division of the school quickly mobilized. The results are significant, with donations totaling more than 400 containers of formula, more than 500 baby food pouches, in addition to blankets, baby wipes, cereal and other items collected and organized. In addition, educational touchpoints helped students of all ages understand the challenges many young families face right here in South Orange County.
“The school’s response was amazing, and it couldn’t have come at better time for the Infant Pantry as we saw a huge increase in requests during our last distribution,” said The Reverend Canon Rob Edwards, head of chaplains at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. “It was impressive to see the entire school get involved and to see all the cross-division learning connections.”
Here’s a look at all the ways the St. Margaret’s community took part in the all-school service learning project:
Donation Drives
Each division held product-specific drives meant to address authentic pantry needs, including:
  • Pedialyte (Early Childhood School)
  • Enfamil Gold and Purple Formula (Lower School)
  • Enfamil Red Formula and baby food pouches (Middle School)
  • Baby wipes (Upper School)
  • Gerber Single Grain Rice cereal (Professional community)
The drives led to donations of more than 400 containers of formula, more than 175 Pedialytes, more than 500 baby food pouches, more than 250 containers of baby wipes, and more than 60 boxes of rice cereal. In addition, families donated more than $1,300 to the program.
Students from all divisions helped organize and stock the donations that came in, which included opening and recording inventory of the many Amazon donations mailed directly to the Church.
It is not too late to contribute to Infant Pantry through the all-school service learning project—the program’s Amazon wish list is still live, and monetary donations can be made by clicking here.
Student Creations
Upper School students used advisory and Innovation Block time to create items that would serve families.
In Upper School advisories, students made more than 200 fleece blankets to be donated to families, while an Innovation Block mini-course taught by Jackie Swaidan knitted stocking hats for infants which were distributed in April.
‘You Are New’
The acclaimed children’s book “You Are New” was featured as an age-appropriate read that celebrates the joys of welcoming a new baby to a family. Middle School students read the book aloud in Early Childhood School classrooms. In the Lower School, the book was read and a discussion of the book followed—the questions having been written by students in the grade 8 service-learning class.
Educational Touchpoints in Lower School
The Lower School had several educational touchpoints about Infant Pantry and its community need during Chapel, including a homily designed and presented by Upper School students that explained the Infant Pantry and how it serves the local community. The presentation communicated the high costs for infant needs like diapers, wipes and formula, and made creative comparisons to food items relatable to Lower School students to illustrate the financial impact on families.
Grade 5 leadership students also created video updates of the division’s formula drive throughout the month of April as a way to increase support, and presented an additional Chapel homily about the importance and broader impact of engaging in service learning.
What’s Next
The Infant Pantry provides monthly distributions, and had two during the school’s project—on March 26 and April 24. SMES students often help at these events, and numbers from the latest distributions only illustrate the growing need in the community that the Infant Pantry meets. The April distribution served 264 families with a total of 374 infants, an all-time high. 
Even before the all-school service-learning project, four Upper School advisories designated the Infant Pantry as their yearlong service partner, and the Middle School service-learning elective class has supported the Infant Pantry as well. Students work closely with Executive Administrative Assistant to the Head of School Claire Frahm who sits on the Church Infant Pantry Committee. Those partnerships will continue, as the school continues to find ways to partner with St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and serve the local community.  
Service Learning at St. Margaret’s
Service learning at St. Margaret’s is in alignment with the school’s Episcopal identity, mission and core values, and aims to create better understanding of societal issues and systemic causes, engender empathy for others, meet authentic versus perceived needs, build life skills through experiential projects and nurture deeper connection, engagement and responsibility to serve the community.
In the spring each year, St. Margaret’s engages in teaching and learning about, and active support of, a need in the community through an all-school service learning project in partnership with a local organization. Past projects include a shoe drive and creating hope boxes of pantry and hygiene supplies for Family Assistance Ministries, and a relief fund with the Episcopal Church for those impacted by the 2018 Camp wildfire in Northern California and the Woolsey wildfire Southern California. Last year, St. Margaret’s partnered with The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano to support its Nourishing Neighbors program, donating needed household items and weekly Harvest Food Boxes to support local families.
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