Friday, April 7, 2023

Manchester School students take food insecurity to heart

By Ed Pierce

Like a pebble thrown into a pond, a recent presentation at Manchester School in Windham has created positive ripples that will help make the community stronger.

Some of the Manchester School fourth graders who helped
create and stage a food drive to benefit the Windham Food
Pantry are, from left, Aubrey Eklund, Maddie Talbot,
Ryder Rice, and Ryder Alfred-Smothers.
Back on Jan. 5, Misty Coolidge, a New Gloucester resident and Mrs. Worldwide 2022, shared with Manchester fourth-grade students her message of how everyone can work to help resolve the problem of food insecurity in Windham. Coolidge has dedicated her adult life to fighting hunger and addressing food insecurity following a childhood of relying on food stamps and the WIC program. In speaking about food insecurity and hunger at the school, she read excerpts from the book “We All Stir The Pot: To End Hunger” that she co-authored with Bobbie Bensur, and her appearance was part of a hunger unit with lessons in six different classrooms about equity, scarcity, needs and wants, available resources and food insecurity.

According to Leah Richards, a Manchester School fourth-grade teacher, Coolidge’s words impacted students significantly.

“All of the students who participated in the presentation from Misty were inspired and motivated to make a difference,” Richards said. “Her stories of helping the Good Shepherd Food Bank gave students the idea that they can also help. I believe that hearing her stories of helping others pushed students to think about how they can give back, especially to the local community.”

Richards said that seven students from two classrooms decided to conduct a food drive of their own to do something to help address the problem of hunger in the community.

“Students worked on creating the idea for their food drive during our project week in the middle of February,” Richards said. “When we returned from break on Feb. 27, students began to put their work into action. They worked on gathering donations through March 24.”

She said that participating students made announcements at school, both in the morning and in the afternoon, asking students and staff to bring in donations for the food pantry. They also sent home a note in the school’s Newsline letting families know that the food drive was going on and any donations that were brought in were dropped off in the school lobby, in Richards' room, or in Mrs. Blanchard/Ms. Pierce's room.

The students had established a goal of collecting 50 canned items, but at the end of their food drive, they were shocked and thrilled to see that they surpassed that goal and collected 158 items for donation to the Windham Food Pantry.

During the "Hunger Hits Home" lessons unit at Manchester School, students learned about food insecurity through guest speakers, short stories, and research. For their final projects, Richards said that students were given the opportunity to present their learning and ideas in a format that worked best for their learning style and in a way that allowed them to dive deeper on a concept they found interesting, such as budgeting, giving back, providing the community information around resources, and other ideas, one being a food drive created and run entirely by students.

“I found this project to be important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I think it is insanely important for students to recognize that they can make a difference in the community. We are constantly teaching students to think about how they can help and support one another, and this project really showed that they take that to heart,” Richards said. “Second, I think it is important for students to be able to take charge of their learning and allow their interests and passions to guide them. The fact that a group of students thought that this would be the perfect way to showcase their learning is what gave them the energy to create and hold such a successful food drive. Finally, I think it is important for students to recognize how many people struggle with food insecurity in our community and what resources are available to help these families.”

Students say it was rewarding to be involved in the food drive.

“I wanted to help people who don't have food, because I feel really bad for them and it's not fair for these people,” said fourth grader Aubrey Eklund.

“I wanted to raise resources for people in need,” said fourth grader Ryder Alfred-Smothers.

“I wanted to help with the food drive because it's important for other people to have food too,” said fourth grader Maddie Talbot.

Fourth grader Ryder Rice said that the hardest part of the food drive was getting people on board to do it and donate.

“We should maybe do another food drive at the beginning of next school year,” Rice said. “We should do it again to help others.”

Coolidge said that she’s humbled to play a small part in inspiring Manchester students to help others.

“This is my why. I get asked by so many, why do you do all that you do? This is why. To inspire change, to educate our children on food insecurity, to not 'make fun' of those that don't have what you have, to normalize it because it's never going away,” Coolidge said. “In my travels across the country as former Mrs. USA and now Mrs. Worldwide, food banks are seeing a 50 percent increase in those that have never visited a food bank before. That number is astounding. I hope my book starts a conversation between parents and their kids about the reality of hunger and possibly even prompts the question of how they can help.

“It's clear here that my visit to Manchester School had an impact on these kids and I'm so happy that they took the initiative to give back to their community,” she said. “Truly amazing. I hope that all my visits encourage change in their districts and possibly inspire a Hunger Action Month each year and that they ask me to return to visit.”

Richards said the one thing she wants her students to take away from this experience is that they recognize that they can make a difference.

“Sometimes we forget that these little people have a fire inside them too, and they can use that to create such a change,” Richards said. “I want them to remember the difference and impact that they made at such a young age and continue to use their voice and actions to make the community, and world, a better place. I also want them to be able to recognize that there are resources for them, their neighbors, and their friends to help them if they are in need. We learned a lot about how many people struggle with food insecurity and that there are resources in place to help them.” <

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.