Twin brothers make it their mission to keep food pantry stocked on Hilton Head Island

loberle@islandpacket.comMarch 28, 2014 

During advisory period at Hilton Head Preparatory School, Joshua and Justin Williams' eighth-grade class would volunteer at a food pantry -- preparing produce, organizing canned goods and passing out food to the people there.

For the twins, it was an eye-opening experience.

"I'd never been around anyone who needed free food," Justin said.

"I learned a lot of people need it," Joshua added. "I didn't think that many people were poor here."

When it came time to choose a community service project, the twins wanted to do more. They founded their own food pantry, J&J's Pantry, to donate food to the soup kitchen at St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church.

To start, Joshua and Justin went door-to-door through Long Cove, their neighborhood on Hilton Head Island, and passed out more than 500 fliers asking for donations. By the time they had finished the first leg of their project, they had already completed the 20 hours required by school.

But the boys couldn't stop.

"We wanted to do more," Justin said.

After a few weeks, their collection no longer fit in their kitchen pantry, so they moved to the basement for more room. There, shelves are filled with cans of soup, cereal, instant oatmeal, corn muffin mix, a vanilla cocoa mix gift set, orzo, a bottle of green curry sauce, pasta and multiseed crackers.

They keep an inventory sheet to see if they need more of certain items, and they made their first delivery to St. Andrew By-The-Sea in February. Justin remembers the date because it was Valentine's Day.

"We had a really good response by that time," Justin said. "They were happy to see young faces helping out."

They had planned to just drop off the food they had collected, but decided to stay and help out with the church's soup kitchen, which serves free lunches on Fridays. Joshua helped cook hot dogs while Justin mixed up the pudding.

Many Hispanic families had come to the soup kitchen. Joshua takes Spanish at school and was the only volunteer who spoke the language, so he helped translate.

"I tried to tell them that they could come back for more food if they wanted," he said. "I think they understood me because they came back for seconds."

The twins plan on continuing their pantry throughout high school, maybe even until they graduate.

"We're going behind the scenes, and I'm seeing what other people do to help the helpers," Joshua said. "It felt good to do something that we decided to do. We didn't have to do this, but we wanted to."

Follow Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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