By B.C. Manion
It’s not a bit uncommon for churches, schools and other organizations to have food drives around the holidays, but students at Learning Gate Community School in Lutz are helping to feed the hungry in a project that lasts nearly the entire school year.
Students are collecting food for Feeding America Tampa Bay.
The project teaches the children many valuable lessons, said Jennifer Weis, one of the fourth-grade teachers involved in the effort. The other two teachers whose classes are directly engaged in the project are Jennifer Boroff and Suze Meredith. All together, there are 64 fourth graders pitching in.
The project that was launched last year by Cissy Stanko, the school’s garden teacher, and the fourth-grade teachers were so inspired by the project they stepped in to take it over this year.
Besides collecting food for the hungry, the children are learning about compassion — as well as reinforcing mathematics, writing and health lessons, Weis said.
“We loved that they could be involved in a year-long project,” Weis said. “We loved what it stood for.”
The goal is to collect one can of food from every student and staff member each month, bringing the total to 624 each month, Weis said.
If they meet that goal, all the students will enjoy a “free dress” day in lieu of the school’s uniform, she said.
The students advertise their food drive through posters and the fourth-grade classes have divided responsibilities for collecting the foods from different grade levels.
Students in her classroom are thrilled to be involved with the project.
“It’s really fun to help. It’s nice to do,” said 9-year-old Miranda College, who thinks there’s a good chance the school will achieve its goal. “I think we’re going to get there.”
“We’re helping to feed hungry people who have nothing to eat,” said Dominick Coniglio, also 9.
Nine-year-old Madison Kocialkowski, said she’s glad her school is helping the poor.
“I feel really bad — just like everyone should — for the homeless people,” she said. “They don’t have what we have.”
They’ll keep track of their progress by coloring in a chart, Weis said. They’ll also practice making pie charts, showing how much food they’ve collected in various categories. They’ll practice making estimation of the food by weight. And, they’ll write about their experiences, too, Weis said.
The project also reinforces lessons on the need for good nutrition and why their bodies need fruits and vegetables, Weis said.
And, it gives children a chance to contribute, she said. Many of these youngsters have no first-hand experience with poverty and are unaware that there are people who are truly hungry, Weis said. This broadens their scope, and she hopes will help them develop an appreciation for community service.
In addition to the canned goods they collect, the school is sharing some of the produce it grows in its garden.
Children at Learning Gate grow vegetables from seed, which they transplant into the garden and they work in the garden to help take care of the plants.
They grow all sorts of things, said students in Weis’ class. They grow peas, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, pole beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, cabbages and mustard greens, they said.
They also grow rosemary, basil, mint and other herbs.
They’ll use some of that bounty to feed the hungry.
During its first month, the school collected 1,260 pounds of vegetables, making a sizable dent in its overall goal of collecting 3,000 pounds of food this year.
In December, a short month because of the holidays, the school went way over its quota, collecting 1,079 cans.
Last year, it set a goal of 1,500 pounds and slightly exceeded 3,000 pounds.
The project is just one more example of how Learning Gate promotes hands-on learning, Weis said. She hopes other schools will set up similar programs to help feed the hungry — while driving home life-long lessons for students.
Students at Learning Gate Community School collect specific foods or necessities each month to help the hungry.
January cereal, powdered/canned milk
April nut butter
Learning Gate is located 16215 Hanna Road. Info: (813) 948-4190 or www.learninggate.org.