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January 23, 2022

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Whitney Elementary basking in afterglow of Bieber visit, donation

Bieber at Whitney Elementary

Courtesy Photo

Justin Bieber talks with some students at Whitney Elementary School during his visit Friday, May 17, 2013. Among those behind Bieber, who announced a $150,000 donation with ConAgra to the school, is Whitney Principal Sherrie Gahn.

Justin Bieber at Whitney Elementary

Kynedi Harris, 10, talks with the media as Jolie Leach, 11, looks on after the private Justin Bieber concert at Whitney Elementary School on Friday, Dec. 16, 2011. Bieber donated $100,000 to the east Las Vegas school, which serves many homeless and low-income students. Launch slideshow »

Map of Whitney

Whitney

5005 Keenan Ave., Las Vegas

Teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber surprised hundreds of students at Whitney Elementary School this month when he presented a $150,000 check to help feed the school's many homeless and low-income students.

Bieber was in town for the Billboard Music Awards when he stopped by the east Las Vegas elementary school to check in on the students and tape a segment for NBC’s “Today” show. The pop star has visited the school a few times since November 2011, when he announced a $100,000 donation and a special holiday performance for Whitney students on “The Ellen Show,” hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

"I knew he wanted to come back, but I didn't know why," said Whitney Principal Sherrie Gahn. "It was quite surreal to have Justin come once, but to have him come twice, it's exciting."

Since Gahn stepped foot on campus a decade ago, she has been a steadfast crusader to not only educate but feed, clothe and care for her students, the majority of whom come from low-income families.

Through the years, Whitney became more than just a school for Gahn's 600 students and their families.

It’s their clothing store and school supply shop. It’s a place where kids can get free haircuts, dental care and glasses. It’s where parents can learn to read and get help if they fall behind on their rent.

For about 300 students and their families, Whitney is also their food pantry, which is open even during the summer.

Although Three Square Food Bank donates 100 bags of food each week to the school, Gahn sees to it that another 200 food bags are available, from the school's discretionary budget and donations.

"We're blessed we get assistance from Three Square (food bank and other nonprofits), but it's not enough," Gahn said. "One of my biggest worries for me is to fill that food pantry."

Realizing the need, Bieber and ConAgra Foods teamed up to donate $150,000 to Whitney Elementary — enough money to operate the food pantry for an entire year.

"It will go a really long way for me," Gahn said of the surprise donation. "Every day, I worry (about the food pantry) because every day there's another mouth to feed. (The donation) alleviates that worry for me but also alleviates my funds so we can assist our families in other ways."

The best part about Bieber's visit, however, wasn't the donation, Gahn said. It's the time Bieber spent with her students, talking and connecting with them. For many of the students, Bieber's rags-to-riches story has become somewhat of an inspiration, Gahn said.

"He's just wonderful with the kids," Gahn said. "He came from humble beginnings like my kids. I think that's the biggest gift you can give them: hope."

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