Tag Archives: Food Bank of the Heartland

It’s a Sexy Weekend of Mud Play, Beer Bellies, and Art

May 17, 2018 by

Subscribe to this free weekly newsletter here.

Saturday, May 19: Play like a kid again (and bring the real kids, of course) at Fontenelle Forest’s Mud Day this Saturday, a partnership with the Henry Doorly Zoo designed to make you forget your adult-world worries. You can go for a barefoot hike, dig in the dirt, build a mud castle, make some tracks, and even do a little mud painting. No matter what you decide on doing, just be sure to have fun. And don’t do too much adult overthinking. There will be a cleanup station available as well, though you may want to bring along a towel or two. Also, (in case you didn’t know) you can rent a family membership to Fontenelle Forest for the day from your local library in Omaha, Bellevue, or Council Bluffs! Keep track of all the fun you can have at Fontenelle here.

Thursday, May 17: Start winding down a little early this weekend while learning about local food as you grab a drink and make some new friends. Head to No More Empty Cups for their Local Food Happy Hour w/ Cooper Farm Urban Ag Education Center with program coordinator and Extension educator John Porter. You may want to RSVP to this free event, as space on the beautiful NMEC patio is limited. Keep in mind donations are certainly welcome, so even if you can’t attend in person, you can still feel good about doing good by donating online here. Find out more about the space here and RSVP to the event here.

Friday, May 18: Experience the culmination of the Rad Women of Omaha service learning project at the Omaha Design Center. Curated by artist-in-residence Kim Darling, this collaboration was inspired by the book Rad American Women from A to Z, by Kate Schatz. The project developed at Blackburn Alternative Program (in collaboration with University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Speech-Language students, the UNO Writing Center, and the UNO Service Learning Academy). This show will feature artwork inspired by real women of Omaha, and includes both narrative and visual works. Learn more about the project and the event here.

Pick of the Week—Friday, May 18 to Saturday, May 19: Get to Elkhorn this weekend for the Main Street Studios Open House. This is a two-day event, so even if you can’t make it out on Friday, you have all day Saturday to check out the updates, new exhibits, live blues and jazz music, and of course, all the new artwork! Plus, if you’re going out on Saturday you can check out the “Alley Gallery.” Appetizers and (free!) beer and wine will be offered throughout, as well as some tasty apps. Get more info about the event and the space here.

Sunday, May 20: Drink beer and do some good this Sunday by attending Beer Bellies for Full Bellies at Jerry’s Bar in Benson. This event has it all: a silent auction, live raffle, drink specials, T-shirts, and button making! Best of all, your beer drinking habits will benefit the Food Bank of the Heartland. Plus, a Food Bank staffer will be on-site showing off the Kids Cruisin’ Kitchen and letting you know how your donations will benefit children in the Omaha community. Get all the details here.

 

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.