Orbit: Store Created in Response to Food Assistance Need Expands


The Orbit was created to service students in need. What started as an idea for a small food closet to provide snacks to underprivileged students has since expanded this school year to a fully fledged resource with items essential to daily life.

Recent numbers prove that a shifting demographic creates a higher need for food assistance programs within the Neenah Joint School District (N.J.S.D.) and its surrounding community; therefore the district response within the Home of the Rockets is to create the Orbit to service students in need.   

Special consideration has taken place at Neenah High School (NHS) in particular with the creation of a student assistance program in 2014. What started as an idea for a small food closet to provide snacks to underprivileged students has since expanded this school year to a fully fledged resource with items essential to daily life.

The Orbit is a resource, which provides disadvantaged students access to basic products necessary to life as a student, including: food, clothing, hygiene products and school supplies. After reading an article published in her hometown newspaper, Spanish teacher Mrs. Shelley Aaholm recognized the need for a service in Neenah to provide food for students and began an endeavor to make the project a reality. After receiving a grant from the Future Foundation of Neenah, the Orbit began distributing food to students in need during the middle of the 2014 academic year. With assistance from the community, the Orbit’s expansion has been seamless into providing a larger range of items.

The community has widely supported this service, fundraising nearly $9,200 since 2014, according to NHS bookkeeper Brynn Becker. The large majority of these donations are from the annual Helping Hands Craft Fair, which allows local artists to sell their crafts. All admission and booth fees are donated entirely to the Orbit, allowing the money to stay within the community to help those less fortunate.

Traditionally, Homecoming Week each year is dedicated toward fundraising for a certain cause. For Homecoming in 2016, a large sum of money was raised and donated toward funding the Orbit. Additionally, donations have increased each year after 2014, Becker said. Logically, this makes sense because of increasing publicity and the extension of public’s knowledge of the resource over the past two years. 

Furthermore, a Season of Giving drive was held for both the Orbit and St. Joe’s, a local food pantry. A total of about 2,500 items were brought in by students and staff, with 1,300 of them being donated to the Orbit, NHS administrator Tim Kachur said.

The support of the community is vital to the success of the program. In response to the community’s increasing need of assistance, those who are more fortunate than others are stepping forward to help their neighbors. Donations are consistently dropped off at NHS from public donors, the majority of which are families of students who attend a school in the Neenah.

Over the past school year and a half, just under 200 individual students have utilized the Orbit’s resources. Not factored into this count is the amount of students who have accessed the service more than once. Females make up the majority of those who receive assistance, likely because they are more willing to ask for help, Aaholm said.

Access to the Orbit is generally determined by a student expressing need to a teacher, who then reports the request to a guidance counselor. The Orbit operates out of a locked closet located somewhere in the school unknown to the general student body. This is intentional to protect the privacy of students utilizing the services, Aaholm said. She adds that only the guidance staff and a select few teachers possess keys to this closet.

Throughout its existence, the most popular item provided are personal items, as they are smaller and more discreet, allowing them to be handed out subtly. Food is a close second by a small margin, giving out mostly snack items and instant foods. According to to N.J.S.D., the most popular items include peanut butter, jelly, crackers, individual macaroni and cheese, single serving oatmeal and cereal, and non-refrigerated milk and juice boxes. Breakfast and dinner items are popular among the food given away, as the majority of students reviving the food are on the free or reduced lunch program through the district.

Since the Orbit’s creation, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced meals at NHS has fluctuated between 20% and 25%, with the current rate at 20.65%. This number is expected to increase by the end of the 2017 school year, Becker said. Additionally, $1,000 from donations is always aside for any expenses, and the rest is spent as needed, Becker said.