By Ukee Washington

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — A former South Jersey teacher found a new calling that keeps her close to both schools and the wider community.

It’s a cold winter morning outside Veterans Memorial Family School in Camden, but there’s no stopping Michele Pilla.

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“That’s a good day for me when I get my hands dirty,” Pilla said.

Pilla is a former teacher who started the nonprofit Wholesome Riches in 2019. She started small, dropping off a few dozen bags of food for students who would otherwise go hungry on weekends.

Brotherly Love: Wholesome Riches Nonprofit Helping To Feed Camden Community

“We were packing it in my garage and dropping it off to one school and then two schools, and then when the pandemic hit, we could not go to schools anymore,” Pilla said.

Pilla reached out to the Food Bank of South Jersey. Thanks to them, and in partnership with the Camden City School District, Wholesome Riches started drive-thru food pantries in November 2020 outside multiple schools across the city.

“Our tanks are full. There’s no greater joy than to see a family have what they need and walk away knowing that you were able to be a blessing to a family,” Pilla said.

It’s not just adults. Students work side by side with volunteers, loading boxed hot meals and bags of nonperishable foods into trunks as a community service project.

“It feels nice to see people getting food,” eighth-grader Alberlin Simo said.

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“I love the fact that when we come to this school that kids get out of class, the teachers putting a priority in it,” volunteer Marc Dickson said.

“I love doing this for people and I love helping out everybody,” student Abrian Correa said.

Luis Cosne stops by regularly to help his neighbors.

Brotherly Love: Wholesome Riches Nonprofit Helping To Feed Camden Community

“A lot of seniors sometimes they can’t make it. I pick up the food for the seniors and drop it home,” Cosne said.

Wholesome Riches served 18,000 people in 2021. The president and CEO of the Food Bank of South Jersey said it’s been a wonderful partnership.

“Michele’s enthusiasm and passion with her group, in working with us, you see the joy,  you see the hope, you see the gratitude,” Fred Wasiak said.

Pilla hopes to get a delivery truck big enough to deliver food to homes, or to expand her pantry locations.

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Ukee Washington