Colrain students donate 270 items to Hilltown Churches Food Pantry

  • Colrain Central School sixth-graders Logan Kingsley, Alvin Richardson and Jaida Bache sort food donations in their classroom. The sixth-grade class collected items this month to benefit the Hilltown Churches Food Pantry in Ashfield as part of a service-learning project focused on food insecurity. Contributed Photo

  • Colrain Central School student Wyatt Bryan marks a donation box as containing “pantry staples” before packing it up for delivery to the Hilltown Churches Pantry in Ashfield. Contributed Photo

For the Recorder
Published: 2/23/2022 3:59:13 PM
Modified: 2/23/2022 3:58:50 PM

COLRAIN — As part of Colrain Central School’s emphasis on service learning, members of the sixth-grade class have had reducing food insecurity at the forefront of their minds.

In addition to advocating for healthy snack options and reducing food waste at their school, the sixth-graders spearheaded a food drive this month, collecting more than 270 items — primarily toiletries and pantry staples — that they donated to the Hilltown Churches Food Pantry in Ashfield. The students greatly exceeded their goal to collect at least 125 items.

“The idea (of service learning) is that kids can take topics they would have been learning about anyway and connect them to the real world and real needs, and find community partners who could use our help,” explained Service Learning Coordinator Talia Miller.

“It connects the students to the world around them and puts them at the center of their learning,” added Carla Potts, director of communications for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District. “They get to figure out how to solve problems in their community.”

The sixth-grade class, consisting of 16 students, split into two groups — one focusing on food insecurity and the food drive, and the other focusing on food waste and healthy eating.

The healthy eating initiative began after Cafeteria Manager Tina Crossman received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to provide healthy snacks to students.

“We went into classrooms and talked to other students about why healthy snacks are good,” recounted 11-year-old Abby Lenois. “It was really fun to do that.”

Abby said she and 11-year-old Alvin Richardson, who promoted the food drive as a member of the group focusing on food insecurity, planned to “go into classrooms for pre-K through fourth grade because they really look up to our class, so if we like something, they usually like it, too.”

“I learned that kids are the best at knowing how to talk to other kids,” Miller explained, “because they’re used to doing things in a fun way.”

Abby said her group hung up posters around the school with facts and jokes, promoting healthy snacks and eating. Alvin’s group working with the Hilltown Churches Food Pantry hung posters up as well, posting them around town and in local businesses.

Colrain Central School has been conducting student-led service learning projects since 2018, and has done about 30 projects so far under this model. They decided on hunger as a topic after reading a book called “Operation Frog Effect” about a group of elementary school students who come together to make a difference. The class also watched a documentary called “A Place at the Table,” which Alvin said opened his eyes to the issue of food insecurity.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know what they’re gonna eat next,” Alvin said as the biggest lesson he’s taken away from this project.

“I didn’t hear anyone complaining or wishing they had changed groups, because they had found their own place,” Miller added. “Whenever that can happen in education, I’m excited. The kids feel like they have ownership over their project.”

As the weather gets warmer and COVID-19 health safety restrictions ease, Miller hopes to have the students interact more with community members for their service learning. After dropping off their items at the Hilltown Churches Food Pantry last week, the students planned to meet virtually with the pantry’s volunteer coordinator to learn more about its work.

Abby said she felt it was important to emphasize how the food insecurity and healthy snacks projects are related.

“It relates because one of the reasons we did the healthy food thing was because some of the kids couldn’t afford to get snacks to eat,” she said, “so now even if they can’t afford to buy a snack they’ll still get snacks provided by the school.”

She added that getting children on board with healthy eating matters because, “if they’re open to it, then their parents or guardians will be on board.”

Abby also hopes students will learn not to take meal portions during snack time, so that they’re able to finish their lunch and not waste food.

Miller noted that “now, between our principal,” who had sent out a survey to the school community regarding snacks, “and the cafeteria manager, they can continue this and the rest of the school can be involved.”


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