Malcolm calls himself the “hype man.”
Rightly so. He brings a ton of energy while serving clients at the produce window of St. Vincent de Paul Louisville’s Food Pantry.
He is one of a handful of students in the JCPS Ahrens Work Transition Program that volunteers at the Food Pantry every Thursday. The program’s goal is to prepare students, 18- to 21-years-old, for independent, paid employment after high school. Students are placed in this program if they are eligible for services in the Functional Mental Disability and Multiple Disability Programs. There are currently 32 students enrolled in the program.
“St. Vincent de Paul has been fantastic,” said JCPS Instructional Assistant Anita Pelle, who brings students on Thursdays. “They are very supportive of our kiddos and their abilities. They treat them like one of the regular volunteer crew.”
It’s a beautiful thing when students with various disabilities, who are working through some of their own challenges, serve clients who have some challenges of their own as well.
“To them, this is my work. This is my job. This is what we’re going to do on Thursday. They work hard,” Pelle added.
While at SVDP, the group fills Dare to Care bags, and some work customer service at the Food Pantry windows.
“Kamaree, who used to volunteer here, you could watch her blossom from being super quiet to jumping around,” Pelle added. “She would tell stories when she got done about … the whole customer service experience.”
Kamaree has since been able to find paid employment.
After the pandemic, the JCPS Work Transition Program began looking for different worksites its students could gain on-the-job training and social skills for their future jobs. SVDP was one of the several businesses this program has partnered with, and it has been a great match ever since.
“It’s been good,” said Ronniesha, 19, who is in the program. “I like the people here. I enjoy making friends in this program.”
SVDP’s Food Pantry is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is fully staffed by volunteers and offers canned goods, proteins, pasta, shelf-stable beverages as well as frozen foods including meat, poultry, and fish. Fresh produce is also available year-round.
In 2022, with the price of groceries largely increasing, the Food Pantry served an average of more than 650 households monthly.
Volunteer Steve Hennessy says having the extra hands has helped.
“Those kids are great,” Hennessy said. “I really think it provides training for them. Anita’s had several that have worked here that have now gone onto jobs. They’re perfectly capable … The sense of self-worth that provides, you can see it in their faces.”
If you would like more information about volunteering or donating to the Food Pantry, visit www.svdplou.org/.
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