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Teacher opens HHS food pantry

Pantry
May. 12, 2013 @ 10:59 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Theresa Rapp felt as though she hadn't done enough.

Gifted with $50 and a challenge to use her time, talent and treasure to multiply it for a food pantry supported by Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Rapp said her $350 final offering still seemed insignificant.

"Last spring, my Parish priest passed out these envelopes containing some cash and encouraged us to use our gifts to multiply the money and give back to the church," Rapp said. "At the end, I had $350 but it didn't feel like it was enough."

Rapp, a teacher at Huntington High School, said she saw a need in front of her every day, walking the hallways of the school where she works.

"I bought a couple of cans of soup and a few sticks of deodorant and set them by my desk at school," Rapp recalled. "Within minutes, students had asked for all of it and wanted to know when I would be getting more. I thought, if those few needed it, there must be more to this issue."

It was that burden and an encounter with a former school bus driver that set the wheels in Rapp's mind turning.

"Every day, I'd ride behind Cliff Beckett as he was taking my students to job sites, and I'd watch him give them money for yearbooks, homecoming tickets, prom clothes out of his own pocket, never asking for anything in return and never telling anyone he'd done it," Rapp said. "I decided, if Cliff saw the need on a contained school bus and I had seen it in the hallway, it must be greater than what we were providing."

Beckett, 46, died in 2009 following a motorcycle wreck, but not before touching the lives of thousands in the community with his compassionate and giving spirit. More than 1,000 filed through the doors of Apostolic Life Cathedral in Huntington to pay their final respects to the man who had paid their way into King's Island or provided clothes or a meal in a time of need.

Pending approval from the Cabell County Board of Education, Rapp will christen her food, clothing and necessities pantry at Huntington High School as Cliff's Closet, in honor of Beckett. It is located in the school's student center and is open to students daily and without question.

"He was such a humble person, and I felt I had to do something to acknowledge this great man," Rapp said. "Although he would never have wanted a sign that says 'Cliff's Closet' (or) would never had wanted to be acknowledged in this way, he has inspired people to be better, and that is worthy of recognition."

Rapp stocks the pantry with toiletries, donated clothing from teachers and parents, food from Huntington Area Food Bank and loaves of bread from Heiner's Bakery. She has also worked to get families needed appliances or medical or dental care. She said daily when she flips the light on in the small storeroom that has been carved out for the pantry, students are immediately drawn in.

One of those student is 15-year-old KateLyn. For KateLyn, the pantry has provided bedding and meant the difference some days between eating or not eating.

"I've gotten food from here, personal hygiene products, clothes for me and my brother," said KateLyn, a freshman taking honors classes. "To be honest, I've gotten food from here at the end of the month that, if it wasn't available, means my mom would go back to stripping because she knows she can make money quick doing that."

KateLyn said she's never felt ashamed about asking for help, and Rapp said she asks no questions of the students, many of whom come not only for food or clothing, but just to talk. She said she earns their trust and builds relationships with the students, who also serve in the pantry sorting clothes and stocking food.

"I don't ask questions. I don't want to know about their income. I don't judge what they need or why they're here," Rapp said. "If there's something they need, I'll find a way to get it for them. All I ask is how I can help them."

In the work of the pantry, Rapp has helped provide food to several football players going home to empty houses after games, a freshman whose mother sold their food stamps for drugs and a junior who was left with his 5- and 6-year-old siblings for the weekend in an empty house.

"People cannot imagine how hunger could be such a problem at Huntington High, but it is a bigger problem than you might imagine, and I can no longer look away," Rapp said.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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