A student-led and student-initiated project at Ahlf Junior High School has received a donation from a national program.

According to EAST (Education Accelerated by Service and Technology) facilitator and teacher Kelly Martin, the project is called "Feeding the Hungry" and helps stock the school's Helping Hands Food Pantry.

"This project provides students on our campus with food bags they can take home if they won't have enough food to get them through the night or the weekends," said Martin. "All of the bags contain a breakfast item (Pop-Tarts, breakfast bars, etc.), an easy-to-fix meal (microwave mac and cheese or raviolis), a snack item (Goldfish, granola bars, etc.), a fruit item (applesauce or fruit cup), as well as other items."

Chandler Crossen, a former student at the junior high, started the project in 2017.

"It took a year for him to get it off the ground, but last year it really kicked into full gear," Martin said. "He received a grant from Donors Choose in September 2018 to start his food bags. This year, Chandler moved to the high school, so he selected a few students to take over his project."

This year, the project is headed up by EAST students Codie Vaughan, Ashlynn Lutrell, Vandi Vest, Ellie Covington and Jayden Bowman.

Lutrell said they "wanted to make a difference" with the project.

"Knowing that kids in our own community and age group sometimes only get the meals they eat at school motivated us to help them however we could," she said. "Keeping the Helping Hands Food Pantry on our campus stocked is one small way we can help make a difference."

"All the hard work and effort we put into this project was worth it seeing our peers not go home hungry," Covington added.

Between Monday, Sept. 30, and Sunday, Oct. 27, people across the country voted on thousands of classroom projects to determine which ones would receive part of a $1 million donation from Sonic Drive-In's national program Limeades for Learning, according to a media release from the corporation.

"With the help of our fans, we donated $1 million for teachers to have access to different teaching tools that otherwise wouldn't be provided through traditional funding methods," said Christi Woodworth, vice president for public relations for Sonic.

Martin ended up being one of those teachers, receiving $492 for the "Feed the Hungry" project.

Martin said she mainly uses Donors Choose for her students to post projects for grants.

"The students write out the grant, and I simply post it for them," she said. "Through Donors Choose, you can sign up to be a Sonic teacher. Simply by signing up to be a Sonic teacher, your projects are eligible for Limeades for Learning."

Although she has posted projects for Sonic's campaign before, this is the first donation her class has received.

Martin received an email from Donors Choose on Oct. 21 stating that Sonic had funded the remaining balance on the project.

"We started receiving the items from our project later that week," she said, and the project is still ongoing.

"The funds that were donated for our project helped to purchase many different items for our pantry." Those include chicken noodle soup packets, microwave macaroni and cheese cups, microwave ravioli cups, granola bars, Pop-Tarts, cereal bars, fruit cups, Rice Krispie treats, Goldfish and gallon-sized Ziploc bags.

"We also just completed a food drive for our pantry," she said. "We partnered with AJHS National Junior Honor Society for this two-week food drive. Because this is an ongoing project, the students are constantly checking on the food bags and will have to restock often."

Martin said she gives "all the credit" for gaining recognition and votes to her students.

"They are the ones who voted daily, and they got their family members to vote as well," she said. "I also have wonderful co-workers who truly love what our students are doing, and they voted as well."

In addition, Betsy Bailey, school and community coordinator for the school district, "did a great job at making sure all projects by teachers in the Searcy School District were publicized. We also used our AJHS EAST Facebook page to promote our project," Martin said.

"If there is anyone I would want to thank, it would be my students," she said. "This was their project. They wrote and promoted the grant opportunity. They want to make our school the best it can be, and they are willing to help out and do whatever they need to so that will happen."

Vaughan said, "Knowing we had the opportunity to help our peers was very motivating and exciting."

Martin hopes to keep the project going "for many years," and her students are busy with several other projects as well.

"I have a group of students who have hygiene baskets as their EAST project," which is also posted on Donors Choose, she said. "These are in conjunction with the Helping Hands Pantry. They keep hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and feminine products available for students.

"I also have a few projects in the works that include possibly painting storm drains to bring awareness to sewer pollution, painting the AJHS bathrooms to bring inspiration to our students, obtaining lights for our flag pole on campus and a 'Leader Inside Us All' mirror wall," Martin said.

This is her fourth year as the EAST facilitator at Ahlf Junior High, but Martin has been with the Searcy School District since 2003.

"I am honored to be able to give back to the district that gave so much to me growing up. Being an EAST facilitator is the best job in the world," she said. "I get to see my students changing the community to make it a better place. They come up with their ideas and have to come up with ways to fund them, and to them, the sky's the limit."

Ahlf Junior High School

What: EAST facilitator Kelly Martin receives donation for class project

Amount: $492

For: "Feeding the Hungry" food drive

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