Generous students, community members help fund and fill Cottonwood High pantryJan 20, 2021 10:58AM ● By Julie Slama
Cottonwood High Principal Terri Roylance shows a full pantry, thanks in part to students who raised funds to help stock the shelves for their peers who are in need. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Every year, Cottonwood High students, like many other high schools, hold a winter fundraising drive to donate funds or supplies for a charitable organization. In recent years, they raised thousands of dollars to help children’s wishes be granted through Make-A-Wish Foundation.
This winter, as they were looking at a variety of options, they realized there was an obvious need right within their own community.
“We were looking at a variety of options, when we realize that we could hold the month-long fundraiser to help our own community, to help stock our school pantry,” studentbody president Faith Godina said. “We have a need right here.”
During the three weeks leading up to the winter break, student leaders came up with ways to raise funds in a COVID-19 fearful time.
“We were able to seek donations online, hold a silent auction online with baskets and our usual tree festival instead of having crowds of people in-person, and we even held grilled cheese nights and had student government and other volunteers waving signs out on 13th East about it,” she said.
The gift baskets featured donated items, such as a TV, air pods, $100 gift cards and other items, as well as the club-decorated trees, brought in several thousand dollars. Coupled with cookie or candygrams purchased by students and delivered weekly in December and restaurant nights, where local businesses, such as Swig, would donate a percentage of profits for the night, helped to fill the pantry’s shelves.
It wasn’t just an effort to raise funds, but to unite the school. They held a spirit week which included a simple unifying action—when students who were randomly called answered their cell or home phones with “Colts are Great,” they would win a donated prize and a chance to be in schoolwide assembly as a way to build school unity.
“I was surprised at all the ways we could raise money during COVID; it felt great,” Godina said. “We want to help everyone at our school and be a positive community.”
Cottonwood High’s pantry is almost the size of a classroom, with rows of shelves organized and stocked with nonperishable items, such as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, cereal, rice, graham crackers, soup, and even Girl Scout cookies. On other shelves, there were school supplies, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items.
SBO adviser Tara Battista said that hundreds of students rely on the pantry weekly for food and Principal Terri Roylance said the shelves need to be restocked every few days.
“We let kids come and get what they need. It may be a day where they didn’t bring a lunch and they’re hungry or they may need to stock up for the weekend,” Roylance said.
Students also are able to come before the school dismissal bell rings on Tuesdays and Thursdays to gather what they need.
“It has been amazing that our studentbody wants to help other students here within the school,” Roylance said. “They raised $1,000 alone when they auctioned off Christmas trees that clubs and groups donated. One anonymous donor purchased a tree and said, ‘I want this to go to a home in need.’ Our community is reaching out to our students, calling to ask if they can donate canned fruit, soup or ask what is on our list of needs.”
Behind the scenes of the pantry are a handful of dedicated volunteers who weekly organize donations, headed by Robyn Ivins, who recently was honored by Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle and the city council for her volunteerism.
Ivins declined to be interviewed, not wanting to be in the spotlight, but in 2018 said that she worked in the pantry to provide food and items to reduce some of the 1,700 Cottonwood students’ anxiety issues.
“In high school, there are all sorts of pressures from sleeping with a boyfriend or getting asked to a dance and wearing the cutest clothes to where their next meal will come from and how their family will cope with pressures,” she said then.
Cottonwood serves a great number of refugee families and more than 40 languages are spoken in the school’s hallways, Battista said. That diversity will be celebrated when the student leaders hold a cultural week in February.
In addition to raising funds for the pantry, student leaders also volunteered to help Ivins and others with the Cottonwood Extravaganza in December.
“We allow our kids to ‘shop’ for themselves and their families,” Roylance said. “There were sports balls, candy, games, hot chocolate, jackets, school supplies, perfume and cologne, personal hygiene items, gift cards, Cottonwood sweatshirts bought from donated funds—about anything kids want and need.”
Godina said that they donated some of the funds they raised for toys and other items students usually “shop” for siblings at Christmas. Battista said they spent up to $499 on those items, with the rest of the funds raised earmarked for the pantry.
Roylance said that the annual one-day was “crazy,” with boxes and pallets of items for any Cottonwood student to “shop” for, but also “so rewarding” as hundreds of students took part in the free shopping spree.
“The items were all donated or purchased with donations. Robyn started it four years ago and she heads it up and reaches out to neighborhoods, churches, Scouts and anyone in our community. This is on top of her overseeing the pantry,” Roylance said. “Robyn knows so many people and is so much a part of our community. She gets others to help out. It makes such a powerful positive impact on our school and students.”
Student leaders have learned that spirit of generosity, giving back to their school.
“It’s been such a hard year so this is a way we can show we care for one another and build school unity,” Godina said. “It’s heartwarming to put in all the work and see people smile and happy and make them feel good.”