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Pearland girls’ homeless pantry draws notice from White House

April 12, 2019 GMT

As young girls, Ariana Perez and Katey Norman both took note of homeless people they’d see on the streets and felt sad and helpless to do anything to help.

“Whenever I saw homeless people, I wanted to help them, but I didn’t know how,” said Ariana, 13.

For Katey, 12, seeing those people was often so upsetting that her mother, Carrie Khattou, would intentionally avoid driving down streets where she knew the homeless would congregate.

“This is something that has bothered (Katey) since she was young, and she would start crying when she saw homeless people on the street,” Khattou said. “She’s always had a heart for them.”

Now, as seventh-graders at Pearland Junior High West, the two girls saw a chance to partner up to make a real difference. Both are part of the gifted-and-talented program at their school and took an idea of Katey’s to create a free food pantry as a project through the school program.

The girls designed, built and established the Little Free Pantry that now stands in front of Embrace Wellness & Chiropractic, 4229 Wells Drive in Pearland courtesy of Dr. Kirra Randolph, the clinic’s owner. The project gained support from local business and community leaders and even drew notice from the White House.

The pantry — which works on a give-and-take honor system — was an instant success. Since its installation in March, the pantry, which offers such items as about 50 cans of food, plus toiletries, diapers and baby formula, has been restocked three times.

Katey’s mom said establishing a food pantry has been on Katey’s mind for a long time, but she was initially hesitant to let her go through with it.

“She’s been bugging me for years about it, and when she told me she wanted to do it (as part of her gifted-and-talented project), at first I told her no because you have to have a business that is willing to host and sustain the pantry and it’s really not easy for a seventh-grader to facilitate that happening,” Khattou said.

However, Katey’s mind was made up and she decided to pursue her passion project without her mother’s help.

“She was really excited, and she decided to do it anyway so I told her she was on her own,” Khattou said.

An idea builds momentum

As it turns out, she wasn’t.

When Ariana got wind of Katey’s idea, she was quick to jump on board.

“I wanted to join in because I’ve always wanted to do this, too. So, I felt like this was a good chance for me to help,” Ariana said.

Together the girls collected supplies to build the pantry, wrote a research paper and created a presentation about their work. To wrap up the yearlong assignment, they’re now working to complete a scrapbook detailing their project’s process.

When Katey’s mother saw her daughter’s determination to complete her pantry, she gave in and decided to offer a helping hand when it came to finding a business to sponsor the Little Free Pantry. In fact it was Khattou who thought of reaching out to Randolph about the pantry’s installation.

“We chose the chiropractor because she’s a good friend of my mom’s and she wanted to help us,” Katey said. “At first I wanted the pantry to be in Houston because there is so much homelessness there, but I realized I couldn’t decline Dr. Randolph’s offer because she’s giving discounts to patients who bring in items to stock the pantry and she’s going to do food drives to keep it full (going forward).”

Khattou agreed that Randolph’s participation has been a huge boost to the project.

“Kirra’s been fantastic with really helping the girls get it off the ground,” she said.

Once the business location was secure, other adults in Ariana and Katey’s lives stepped up.

“We all worked together to design it and make the blueprints, and Ariana’s mother bought all the supplies since my grandpa was building it, and the project just went from there,” Katey said.

Support from Trump

And when it came time to install the pantry, the community showed up, too, including Mayor Tom Reid, who came bearing donations.

For their community presentation to formally debut the Little Free Pantry, the girls invited city officials and others to the ceremony, though they admit they didn’t know what to expect or who would even show up.

When the day arrived, they saw a gathering of from 15 to 20 people.

“I thought there would only be about five people there, so I was very surprised with the turnout,” Katey said.

However, their most famous invitee, Donald Trump, sent his regrets.

“I sent an invitation to the president,” Katey said. “I got an email from the White House saying he appreciated that I was helping my community; so that was fun.”