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One of my favorite movies is “Pay It Forward.” Trite, I know. But I’m one of those people who believe that the smallest of rocks dropped in the ocean makes ripples forever, affecting everything that comes into its path.
I’ll take trite over trendy any day.
In my school, I try to place a major emphasis on community service. In this day and age of kids focusing on the next new gadget, the next big holiday laden with gifts and performing acts of kindness with a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude, I want to instill the importance of thinking of others first and giving back.
Without the anticipation of getting something in return.
One of the major ways we achieve this is to volunteer at our local food bank. And before we even step foot into the food bank, I have a representative come out and EDUCATE the kids on what is happening around them.
- Over 675,000 Oklahomans are at risk of going hungry every day. Oklahoma’s total population is 3,814,820. That’s about eighteen percent of Oklahoma’s population.
- One in four children in Oklahoma struggles with hunger. Out of a classroom of 25 children, five of them do not have food to eat on a daily basis. Over one-third, or 15,000, of the Regional Food Bank's emergency food recipients on a weekly basis are children.
- Fifty-six percent of school-aged children are on free or reduced meals, the school meals being the only meals many of those children receive throughout the week.
- About 500,000 Oklahomans must make choices between food and rent, utilities or medicine. It is feared skyrocketing food and fuel costs will exacerbate this already grave problem. And these families are employed, middle-class, working families.
When the kids realize that this isn’t just a problem which adults experience, that children just like them are going hungry, it completely puts it into perspective for them.
We visit the food bank at least four times a school year, five if we can manage it. Students who have never been to the food bank before are usually pretty overwhelmed when we arrive, ready to work our three-hour shift. I usually request the backpack program, where we stuff bags with nutritious food that will supply a school-aged child with three to four meals over a weekend until the child can return to school for breakfast and lunch. The bags include foods like granola bars, fruit cups, juice boxes, a jar of peanut butter, crackers and dried fruit. Foods that we get on a regular basis, and probably do not appreciate nearly enough.
And the assembly line begins.
We stuff and seal bags for a solid hour and a half, have a fifteen minute break, then return for another hour and a half, creating piles of meals. We usually run about 15 to 18 people, including some parents, and by the time our shift is over we have created around 5000 meals. Four meals per child per weekend. We’ve made a difference in approximately 1000 individual lives, but numerous families. How awful would it be as a parent to not be able to provide for your child? Even with working two and three jobs?
I try to drive home the fact that in three hours of our time, we have impacted an infinite number of lives, some of which will hopefully go on and remember how their lives were changed and will be able to pay it forward. And when they connect the dots and see that we have participated in this activity four or five times, the impact that we have made just grew exponentially.
When surveyed at the end of the year which field trip they liked best out of the ten we have done over the course of the school year, it’s unanimous that the Food Bank was the favorite. When asked why, the students respond with, “It made me feel good!” and “We helped people!” and “Kids aren’t hungry!”
They expect nothing in return. Just the knowledge that they have made a difference to one person is enough for them.