Part II, John H. Amesse Elementary students
by Ali Marsh
“Because they’re all our kids” is the guiding principle Food for Thought has lived by since its inception, and it’s one that has kept the organization laser-focused on ensuring their mission is simple yet incredibly effective. And we’re very fortunate to be serving over 30 schools after only a handful of years. But with this growth comes the need for volunteers – and lots of them! At the primary packing site “under the bridge” at Metro State, over 100 volunteers show up every Friday morning to guarantee every single child at their schools goes home with food for the weekend, and each school with an on-site packing operation requires a minimum of 12-15 volunteers to run optimally. While these volunteers have often consisted of employees of the businesses who generously sponsor our schools, a new group of volunteers has been emerging in the new year, and they are a force to be reckoned with!
Who are these all-stars? They’re kids.
They’re strong, positive, altruistic young leaders who know there are kids in their community who struggle with food insecurity, and they answer the call to help without thinking twice. We’ll be highlighting this next generation of volunteers in a series of posts so you can get to know these amazing individuals.
The volunteers that absolutely must be highlighted next are the students at John H, Amesse Elementary. Students at this school are guided by the principles of advocacy, empathy, and collaboration. And boy do they exemplify these values! Led by their teacher, Pam Caswell, these students started volunteering with Food for Thought late last fall, and anywhere from 20-50 first through sixth grade students take turns joining Food for Thought’s adult volunteers in packing bags. The adult volunteers can attest that they bring an incredible amount of energy, motivation, and unadulterated joy to the whole operation. Over the last few months, it has been nothing short of inspirational to work alongside these young trailblazers, not only because they give their time willingly and with smiles on their faces, but also because they’re the ones in need. Pam has been critical in helping them understand the concept of volunteerism and why it’s important, and the kids light up knowing they get to help.
Over the course of our time with these students, we’ve had the opportunity to ask them questions about themselves and why they join us, and their answers are pretty fantastic. When we asked them what foods they like best, most of them resoundingly answered that they loved getting Oreos in their bags (no surprise there). A few students, though, said they liked the cheesy tuna meal best, or the applesauce, or even the beans. One little girl responded that her cat likes the tuna. She was especially grateful because “Otherwise, my cat has nothing to eat!” We wanted to find out how the students used the food they received, and although some explained they had to make meals by themselves or with a sibling, most of them said that they cooked it with their families. They also revealed that they shared their food with others (cats included!) who were in need. When asked why they volunteer, we received a multitude of answers; everything from “It makes me feel good to help others,” to “I like to pack the food so I know what I’m taking home!”
Even more poignant than their words, however, are these students’ actions. They are unbelievably patient and kind with one another, passing along instructions to new students about how many of each item gets added to their bags, complimenting one another, waiting for students who may be packing for the first time and are just learning the ropes, and even helping younger students pack their bags when they can’t reach items or when their bags get too heavy. One day an older student was packing with me and taking his job very seriously. He wasn’t interested in chatting. Although he was very respectful, he wanted nothing to do with my silly questions about the upcoming holidays or what he liked to do for fun. When Pam announced it was time to return to their classroom, he finally made eye contact and, in a small voice, politely said, “Can I please take a package of Oreos with me?” I was so surprised to hear him speak up and immediately encouraged him to take a few. He politely took a single package and then, without warning, threw his arms around me and said “Thank you!” It’s moments like that when one realizes just how pure these kids are: their kindness, gratitude, and willingness to work for themselves is positively overwhelming.
Packing bags alongside the students who get to take them home at the end of the day really drives home just why Food for Thought does what it does. Their resilience and benevolence is immediately evident, and we can’t help but be convinced that the collaborative effort being put forth by our adult and student volunteers is affecting change well beyond their sweet smiles and giggles.
Thank you so much to Pam and the students at John H. Amesse Elementary. They couldn’t be more amazing or more deserving!