Student Features

Brothers Team Up to Build Mini Food Pantry

Aug 10, 2021

Brothers with finished pantry

Last spring eighth grader Josef and fifth grader Tomie Weinzierl-Binus of Altoona built and painted a mini food pantry with the help of their parents, stocked it with food, and installed it at the Hillside Community Church in Tyrone. The project was offered by the Design Factory program through the Sarah Heinz Boys and Girls Club.

The virtual seven-week program was one of the many enrichment activities that the PA Cyber offers to its students. Participants from across the state received materials in the mail at no cost and built the pantries at home. They learned how food pantries help people who live with food insecurity. PA Cyber offers several hands-on programs in which students learn how engineering creates solutions to everyday problems.

In an interview with PA Cyber, Josef wasn’t interested in receiving recognition for a job well done. From his perspective, he did it because it needed to be done and it helps people. The end. He didn’t want to discuss it anymore. It was his little brother Tomie who expressed interest in the project initially, even though the program was meant for older students like Josef. Josef agreed to take on the project, with his little brother working along his side and their parents guiding them.

Building with dad

Building the pantry box was a family affair. The boys’ parents guided them through the project.

Their mother Jenn Weinzierl-Binus explains that Josef has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). “His emotions don’t always come across. He wants to help other people but doesn’t always know how. Projects like those offered by the school provide him with an opportunity to give back and fulfill a need to help people.”

One of the goals of the project was to help Josef practice expressing empathy for others. “With his ASD, he may care about something deeply, but he can come across as unsympathetic,” says Jenn. “He used money that he received for a birthday gift to stock the pantry. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t care. It’s a common misconception about children on the spectrum, but he reflects a great deal on things that concern him before acting on them because he wants to do the most good that he can with what he has.”

Boys with their dogs

Josef included dog and cat food in the pantry. “If you can barely afford food for yourself, it’s even harder to feed your pets,” he says. “Pets are important companions and make people feel better.”

The project was also a nice way for the boys to practice mitzvahs—or good deeds—as part of their religious practice. And it was an opportunity for them to do something with their father Derek who has been contending with health problems.  

Jolene McLaughlin, the representative of PA Cyber’s State College regional office, helped find a home for the finished pantry. She says, “One of the best parts of my job is helping with our community outreach programs. I love that PA Cyber puts so much emphasis on helping the communities in which our offices reside and our families live. When Jenn reached out for help finding a home for the pantry, I was more than happy to pitch in. I am so glad that the boys’ pantry blessed the Tyrone community because it has seen a lot of use since being installed.” 

Finding the Right Fit at PA Cyber

Before joining PA Cyber, the Weinzierl-Binus brothers faced several traumatic and physically harmful bullying incidents at a brick-and-mortar school. They became reserved and quiet. Jenn and Derek then enrolled their sons at a cyber school but were left wanting more opportunities for socialization, support, and resources for their children. They enrolled the boys at PA Cyber in 2018. After a few years at the school, Jenn says her sons are “so different from how they were, and they’re much happier. Josef has gotten many more services [for ASD], and that has been a huge help for our family.”

Jolene at the State College office says, “When Josef and Tomie first started with PA Cyber, they were shy and didn’t want to participate in many activities at the office. Fast forwarding to now, they attend several programs at our office and interact with other students and the staff regularly. Before the pandemic, our office staff loved when they would come to the office because they would make it a point to tell us jokes and about their latest adventures with gardening and their love for insects.”

Jenn is glad to see her kids socialize with peers at the regional office activities. She says, “I’ve got pictures of them laughing and joking around with other kids. There’s definitely a huge improvement. I cannot express how grateful I am, and how much we love PA Cyber.”

Brothers playing ukulele at regional office

Josef and Tomie play the ukulele at a PA Cyber regional office event in State College. These events are a great way for students to meet peers and learn something new.

Program over Zoom

A Sarah Heinz Boys and Girls Club program taught participants how to build pantries over Zoom.

Media Contact

Jennie Harris /

About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instruction methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and does not charge tuition to students or families.