PWHS Senior Kelli Coles carrying donations to a home in Philadelphia.

In Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS) English classes, seniors complete a “20% project” — a self-guided effort that involves exploring a passion, researching a topic or solving a problem. PWHS Class of 2020’s Kelli Coles decided to dedicate her 20% project to solving the problem of hunger.

Initially, Kelli had planned a grab-and-go food bank at PWHS. However, just as all of the pieces were falling into place, the pandemic hit.

“Initially, schools closed for two weeks, and I had decided that my project could still be completed but on a very tight schedule,” said Kelli. “As the stay-at-home order was pushed back farther and farther, I decided to change my project to be completed at home but in a way that could still help the community.”

Instead, Kelli partnered with a teacher who works at Richard Wright Elementary School in Philadelphia. The teacher explained that many of the school’s parents were feeling overwhelmed with financial issues and worried that they couldn’t provide basic needs for their families.

Kelli’s original plan centered on collecting food donations for the month of April. Thanks to an online wishlist and the generosity of friends and family, she was able to keep that same timeline for her redirected efforts.

“The most surprising thing about the project was watching all the donations come in,” she said. “I received more donations than I had ever expected; every day for about three weeks truckloads of donations came in with crates full.”

Kelli collected enough food for 20 families in Philadelphia, as well as for a handful of students at Cheyney University who were unable to return home due to the pandemic.

Delivering the food to the families was her favorite part of the project.

“The children lit up as they saw some of their favorite snacks and foods being brought to them, and it brought me joy to know that at least one child did not go to sleep hungry that night,” said Kelli.