Written By: Marina Lewis, Mauldin High School – Social Worker
March 13, 2020. Seemed like any other Friday; everyone was ready to get out the doors of Mauldin High and start the weekend. The weekly food pantry backpacks were lined up for students in need to grab on their way out the door. I was busy wrapping up my emails for the week and didn’t get to speak to several of the students. Little did I know that was the last time I would see them pick up their packs for the school year!
The following Monday, we were in a state of emergency due to the coronavirus. Schools were closed, and in 72 hours teachers converted their classes to eLearning. Everyone was so busy making virtual learning available. All I could think is, what in the world could I do? My job as a school social worker is tied to my students being at school! The backpack program, all the small groups, OnTrack meetings, Mentor program, Social-Emotional Learning training, activities and events all came to a screeching halt.
Quarantine stopped daily living as we knew it, but life continued. Our students needed the connection to the school that provided them stability in what was often a very chaotic and unstable home life. That next Friday, when our students normally would have picked up their extra food supply for the weekend, I knew what I had to do. I needed to bring the food to them. An amazing co-worker, Kelly Yanity, and I packed up the bags and delivered them to our 20 students in need.
As the weeks stretched on and the state was shut down, with support of our principal, Michael Peake, and the blessing of my husband, my three teenagers packed up the pantry and moved it to our garage. We continued to make weekly supply deliveries to our families in need, as well as new families that were struggling due to the pandemic. Everyone pitched in to help our little Mauldin High food pantry not only survive but thrive. Brookwood Church continued to collect donations. The PTSA donated all the items from the student school store that was going unused and sponsored a SignUpGenius to collect needed household and cleaning supplies. We switched from backpacks to boxes, left them at the door to have as little physical contact as possible, and followed all COVID protocols.
In the end, it became less about the food being delivered and more about the relationships strengthened and the trust earned. The food became more of an excuse to check in with our students. It wasn’t just for them either. It brought peace to me and my co-workers to be able to lay eyes on them and know they were OK. It gave structure and purpose to my quarantine days. Assisting them with all the changes that had been thrown at all of us. Helping them learn to do this eLearning thing. Sharing resources and providing hotspots. They felt heard. They felt seen. I felt relieved. These students gave me more than I could give them, reminding me not to take things for granted. The hugs, the laughs and the check-ins we usually shared throughout the halls and classrooms were missing. We realized the importance of relationships.
The silver lining of this pandemic is that it made us slow down and focus on what is truly essential: connecting with others. Being there for one another is what will get us through. My hope is that through all the changes, grief and chaos 2020 has brought, that it brought us something greater that can live past this pandemic: gratitude. Gratitude for each and every person that impacts our days. Greenville will get through this stronger by focusing on each other. I am privileged to have the opportunity to continue to serve our students, teachers and community, and will let that be my lasting memory of this pandemic.
Join Ten at the Top for the Celebrating Upstate Unsung Heroes Virtual Event on Nov. 18 at 11 a.m. by visiting www.tenatthetop.org/celebrating-unsung-heroes-virtual-event/ to register and learn more. At this event, they will honor Marina Lewis along with 130+ additional unsung heroes that have kept the 10-county Upstate region alive and well during this pandemic.