When their summer service trip to the U.S. and Mexico border was canceled because of the pandemic, Loyola Academy juniors Nicole Cleland and Betsy Regan still wanted to reach out to help others. So when the idea to organize a local food drive came up among the group of students who had planned to go on the trip, the two teens ran with it. They organized a May 8 drive to benefit Catholic Charities’ food pantry in Des Plaines. Many of their fellow students from the Wilmette school took part. “Betsy and I jumped on the opportunity because we knew that we wanted to help the community,” Cleland said. “The need for food was extremely high, and we knew that we could rally the community together to serve a greater cause.” The teens used social media to raise money and also encourage physical donations of items for the food pantry. “We let our fellow students know by having members of our summer service group post Instagram story bingos,” Regan said. “The bingos ranged from $1 to $7 and people were able to Venmo us, if they wanted to donate. Through this, we were able to raise $525, which we donated to Catholic Charities.” The school helped spread the word about the food drive, as well. Cleland and Regan knew not everyone would be able to drop items off on the day of the drive, so they arranged to pick food up from donors’ homes. “People left their donations on their doorsteps, and Nicole and I were able to pick them up. We got over 20 responses throughout the Chicagoland area in this way,” Regan said. “We were surprised with the amount of food people left on their doorsteps, usually ranging from two to six grocery bags filled with donations.” Loyola Academy’s football team also pitched in, arranging for several trucks filled with donations. In the end, Cleland’s and Regan’s efforts resulted in 504 bags of groceries donated to the food bank. The two students credit their school with emphasizing helping others during times of crisis. “We knew it was important to give back during the pandemic by providing food because Loyola has taught us to serve others in times of need. We knew that this was the most important time to care for others because the need was higher than ever,” Regan said by email. Every bag of food is needed at the pantries right now, said Marie Jochum, Catholic Charities’ director of board relations and volunteer engagement, who is helping coordinate the agency’s response to food insecurity during the pandemic. “Our largest concrete need right now — other than financial assistance — is food. That’s why it was such a beautiful gift from Loyola Academy. And there have been other schools and parishes that have donated to our food pantries,” Jochum said. Catholic Charities’ food pantries have seen an increase in people coming for food since the coronavirus crisis began and staff believe demand for food will only increase as the economy takes longer to recover. “If a parish, faith group, youth group or any person is looking to connect, a food drive is really important for us,” she said, adding that all donations coming into the food pantries are properly sanitized before they are given out to clients. The most needed items include: canned vegetables, peanut butter, canned soup, rice, macaroni and cheese, dry cereal, pasta, tuna, oatmeal, pasta sauce, canned fruit and fruit juice. The long-term ramifications of the coronavirus crisis on the marginalized will include food insecurity, so the need for donations will not be going away anytime soon, Jochum said. For information on ways to donate, visit catholiccharities.net.