A Fort Walton Beach High School senior recently took it upon herself to create a food pantry for less fortunate students. Students have begun taking food home to feed their families.
FORT WALTON BEACH — When Lyndsey Laborde thinks about her high school experience, she uses words like “family” and “home.”
That’s why the summer before her senior year at Fort Walton Beach High School, she tried to think of a way to give back to the school community she loves so much. Working closely with guidance counselor Susan Versteeg, she decided to open a food pantry at her school.
“I asked her, ‘Do we have a need for that?’ ” Laborde said of her early conversations with Versteeg. “She said, ‘Absolutely. We have homeless kids that go to our school.’
“That kind of shocked me and I wanted to help them out,” she added.
They spent the summer ironing out the details, including finding a place for the pantry in the school. By the beginning of October, The Pantry, as it’s named, was up and running.
“Sometimes students want to do something because they feel like this will make them look better,” Versteeg said. “Lyndsey is not a student like that. She’s from the heart.”
Versteeg, who said that there were more than 350 homeless students in Okaloosa County, added that the pantry has already helped about five students at Fort Walton Beach High since it opened Oct. 1. It was created out of a closet in an old classroom.
“Sometimes in high school it’s a little bit harder because they really don’t want anyone to know,” said Versteeg, who added that they were working to confidentially help students in need.
Laborde said residents, school staff members and students have helped stock the pantry’s shelves. Some have ordered food at Walmart or on Amazon and are having it shipped to the school. Food and cash can also be brought to the guidance office during school hours.
One of the local businesses that stepped up to the plate is the Bald & The Beard Restaurant Group, which owns Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer, Jackacuda’s Seafood & Sushi and Cuvée Kitchen + Wine Bar.
According to Adrienne Brand, events and marketing director for the group, she and the owners are all alumni of Fort Walton Beach.
She said they heard about the pantry through a post on the school’s Facebook page.
“We were inspired immediately when we saw what she was doing,” Brand said. “Being in the hospitality, food and beverage industry, we kind of have a big passion for feeding people, so we were inspired to help her.”
She said members of the group got together Oct. 11, took a trip to Sam’s Club and then went to the school with about 50 cases of food.
“We donated pretty much everything on the list that they had posted on social media,” said Brand, who added that the items were mostly “canned and nonperishable items that they could take home (and) also stuff that could be eaten there at the school for lunches and snacks.”
Laborde credited her parents, Scott and Sara Laborde, school officials including Versteeg and Principal John Spolski and junior Chloe Andreozzi for helping her. Andreozzi will take over the program when Laborde graduates.
And she said the happiest day of her life was Friday, when Versteeg told her a student had come in and gotten food from the pantry to feed his family over the weekend.
“The response from the community has been incredible and overwhelming, and it warms my heart that so many people help out such a good cause,” Laborde said. “If anybody else wants to start a program at their school, I would be more than willing to help them out.”