Marching to meet the need

Students turn out en masse with the fruits of a food drive for Helpline.

Call it a human food chain.

Amidst excited chatter and the deafening rustle of paper bags, three classrooms’ worth of Sakai sixth graders passed parcels and boxes of food from one end of Matt Pedersen’s classroom through the hallway and into a waiting truck.

“That’s an efficient machine,” teacher Doug Olson said. “One thousand, six hundred and ten items loaded in twenty minutes.”

This is the third year in a row that Pedersen has had his students participate in a Helpline House Project Wishbone Thanksgiving food drive, “as a way to get involved in the community, and to get community into the classroom.”

Pedersen began this year’s non-perishable collection this month as a part-service, part-math exercise involving lessons in both civics and coordinate graphing. In two weeks, the students collected and graphed 35 cans.

He knew they could do better, so he upped the ante by inviting two other sixth grade classrooms, Olson’s included, to compete.

As students brought in their contributions, each item was marked on a graph sheet under the appropriate teacher’s name.

Pedersen set a goal of 750 items; students produced more than twice that number.

“It just took over like a steamroller,” Pedersen said. “My class doubled and then quadrupled in two days.”

Suspecting that the avalanche would continue, the teacher placed a call to Helpline House saying they might want to prepare. Little did he know that the Sakai delivery would be preceded by the entirety of the Ordway Elementary School student body, who themselves had been busily collecting festive holiday specialty items like olives and pickles.

They made a midday Friday walk en masse down Madison Avenue to deposit their collection on Helpline House’s doorstep.

Ordway special education teacher and food drive organizer Karen Keller said she’s been familiar with Project Wishbone for some time and that, like Pedersen, she and the Ordway staff are keen on service.

But along with giving, she says, must come awareness, and that’s why the school is walking down to Helpline House to follow their collection drive through.

“There are so many opportunities where the students do something but they don’t really connect with the effort,” she said. “It’s okay to just collect food, but we really want the kids to see where it’s going...and to put a face to it. We didn’t want this random, come-and-toss-your-can-of-food-in-the-sack.”

Pedersen echoes this idea, pointing out that even as he tried to foster healthy competition to increase the bottom line, he reminded students of the real message each time they added a tick to the graph.

Today, the official Project Wishbone drop day for the general public, will bring more donations. Clara Manny, Helpline House’s manager of volunteer services, expects drops to continue into the week. Year to year, Project Wishbone’s Thanksgiving boxes serve around 150 island families.

Manny says that with a huge number of students like the Ordway group, it might prove challenging to infuse the visit with a lot of discussion or education. She and other volunteers focus on getting kids through the warehouse in an orderly fashion.

Still, she believes witnessing the Helpline volunteers at work as they file through the facility will have an impact, and doesn’t doubt that every time kids come through the door, they learn something about the scope of need in the world around them.

“Because most of them don’t have a clue,” she said. “It’s good.”


Holiday help

Assemble a Thanksgiving food box for a family in need and deliver it to Helpline House, 282 Knechtel Way, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Nov. 17. Or bring non-perishable items of your choice to the food bank during regular business hours, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Call 842-7621 for info.

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