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Qiling Wang, Deseret News
Kris Barton, left, and Lexie Dubell help distribute food as the school opens its expanded Leopard Stash food pantry in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Aubriana Martindale told acquaintances that her employer, Smith's Food and Drug, was contributing a three-year gift to extend the reach of East High School's food pantry, she got an incredulous reply:

"East High School?"

The needs are real, she explained. About 60 percent of East High School students live at or below the poverty line. More than 100 students who attend the school are experiencing homelessness. Some 400 students are refugees.

"We are a very diverse high school. We're an urban high school. Within our diversity there is diversity. That's the part of the fabric that intertwines and interweaves that makes our family of East High so strong and so special," said Principal Greg Maughan.

Qiling Wang, Deseret News
Greg Maughan, principal at East High School, speaks during the opening of East High School's Leopard Stash food pantry in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

On Tuesday, student leaders, educators, staff and community members gathered in the school cafeteria to celebrate the $65,000 gift from Smith's that will stock the pantry — named Leopard Stash — with canned food, staples, fresh produce, dairy and meat.

The existing pantry has a grab-and-go counter where students can help themselves to a piece of fruit, bagel or granola bar to consume during the school day or after school.

The gift from Smith's expands the reach of the program to include emergency food supplies and referrals to other community resources. The grocery chain, part of the Kroger family of companies, also contributed $5,000 to the Salt Lake Education Foundation to help fight hunger elsewhere in the school district.

Martindale, Smith's corporate affairs manager, said hunger affects people of all ages, races and genders.

Qiling Wang, Deseret News
East High School students take some food from the Leopard Stash food pantry in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

Martindale said her father experienced hunger as a child. He dropped out of school to help support his family. His mother was a single mom with four children.

He still talks about a Christmas gift he received in his childhood from his aunt, a case of SpaghettiOs, which he kept under his bed until he was ready to consume one of the cans.

"For those who don't struggle with hunger, we forget just how precious food can be," Martindale said.

Salt Lake City Board of Education member Melissa Ford, who represents the East High School community, said Leopard Stash is a place where the school community can give and receive help, depending upon one's circumstances at the time.

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"This is a community. It's a family. We help each other. At any given time in our lives we may need help or we may be in a position to give help. We're probably going to be both at different times in our lives. If we're able to give help, then this is a good place to give help and if you need help, this is a good place to receive it," Ford said.

Anna Bilic, East High's junior class president, said the school community put a lot of effort into building the pantry but the gift from Smith's will help further its reach.

"Having a more solid foundation with this donation will just bring so much more relief and satisfaction to so many people so we're thrilled about that," Bilic said.