Students visit food pantry to close the gap on summer hunger, so do teachers

STUART, Fla. - Student volunteers find themselves re-stocking the food pantry at Elev8 Hope Central Station every couple of days. What's different this year? Rina Shpiruk said she's having teachers showing up for help. 

"I can tell you the 'I owe yous" they have promised to give back everything they've taken out come September," said Rina Shpiruk, founder and president of Elev8 Hope. 

Rina said 27 teachers in the last two weeks have picked up food.  

"We had a teacher come in here that I recognized and I kind of pulled her aside and I said 'why don’t you come back later on and I will have your food ready for you so that you don’t have to to face yourself among your students?' And she said 'no, I want them to see that I’m no different than them,' and she stood in line and she filled her box," said Shpiruk. "I went in my office. I cried." 

There is a push for teacher raises in Martin County right now. The District is an A-rated District and the average teacher salary is 46,528. The state average teacher salary 48,992. Many who are fighting for raises say teachers are leaving the district to go to other counties. Palm Beach County, a B-rated district pays an average salary of 50,500 plus about 16,500 in benefits. 

"Right now, I'm not thinking about becoming a teacher," said Jamie Shemesh. 

Shemesh used to be a substitute teacher in Martin County, but couldn't go full time because of the pay. Now, she's a retail consultant.  

"It's sad that as a consultant I was making more money doing that than being a teacher," said Shemesh. 

Shpiruk said she expected to see families come in to close the gap on hunger during the summer, many are students who rely on free or reduced lunch, but now she's seeing many teachers out for the summer are also struggling. 

"These are the teachers that have reached out to me and said Johnny needs a backpack, Johnny is in trouble they need food. All year round, they are making sure their students are tended to and that their needs are met and all of a sudden Johnny is helping the teacher back this summer," added Shpiruk. 

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