We know the Mid-Ohio Food Collective serves pantries and kitchens throughout the city of Columbus, but hunger doesn’t stop at city limits.

One rural county is meeting the needs of hundreds of families with an unusual partnership that puts high school students at the front lines.

Back in 2014, Michelle Darner saw a need. She heard the Mid-Ohio Foodbank was looking for a central distribution location in Coshocton County and talked to other leaders of the Canal Lewisville, United Methodist Church.

“When you are a caregiver just gets into your blood,” said Darner. “I mean, that’s just something that you do when you see a need, you act on it.”

And it grew from there. One of four busy pantries in the county — this one focusing on produce only.

Chuck Rinkes — a member of the church — is also superintendent of River View Local Schools. He came up with the idea of high school student volunteers.

“And we kind of partnered that together,” said Rinkes. “So, we’ve had over 500 kids since 2014 that have gained hundreds of community service hours.”

“I love it,” said Brittany Henderson a senior at River View High School. “I like being able to interact with the community because I’ve never really known, like, that’s what people want food, and I’ve never really known that in the way that they’re, like, so happy to just see us.”

Life lessons for young people. But even more, in this unique partnership, the students who earn community service hours can volunteer beyond the minimum hour requirement and earn a “letter” in volunteerism. Some letter in sports and service.

“I would put it about equal,” said senior Cortney Bookless. “I mean, they both take up time, obviously … You need to put effort forth and both. So, I mean, it is a balance, but it’s a lot of fun, I think, just to be involved.”

And Rinkes believes community service is not just an afterthought here — it’s a commitment.

“Kids see their neighbors come through here,” said Rinkes. “Kids see sometimes their relatives do come through. And we obviously have that conversation with them that, you know, this is an opportunity for us as students and as teachers and administrators to partner with our district, but also partner with our community.”

“I didn’t realize that this many people would need to come and get food,” said Bookless. “And then, so just seeing it is kind of eye-opening, like, how much you can do to just help somebody out.”