There’s a room with 20-some teenagers and the counter is covered in cans arranged in pyramids. Sound like trouble? It’s not — this is a classroom and the cans are full of non-perishable foods and the teenagers are the students of Floyd Dryden Middle School’s George Gress, who encouraged his students to donate money to buy non-perishable food items to donate to the Southeast Alaska Food Bank.
Malcolm Lumba is involved with student government at Floyd Dryden and explained that the student government wanted Floyd Dryden to hold a school-wide food drive when they heard the Southeast Alaska Food Bank had a shortage of food to provide to the community. While Gress’ students reported seeing a few cans in various classrooms, their class really took the call for action seriously.
Gress clearly understands his students, as he suggested that students donate money instead of cans, since most of them wouldn’t be able to easily go to a store on their own, and offered to match their donations — dollar for dollar.
Gress and student teacher Patrice Helmar have been focusing on fostering community in the classroom and the students seem to be taking it to heart, noted Gress. While some students offered a mischievous grin and suggested that they were donating “to get the teacher’s money,” most added that it felt good to give.
Daniel Clayton offered “When a teacher opens himself to be ...“ “Used,” interjected classmate Jason Nichols, with that previously mentioned mischievous grin.
Clayton continued, “Yeah, as teenagers we like to take advantage of people when we have the opportunity, so we thought we’d get some amusement out of seeing our teacher spend his hard earned money.” He later added, “I don’t want to sound mean by saying ‘taking advantage of-;” and Nichols finishes the sentiment, “It’s for a better cause, if we take advantage of him now, more people will have a better and longer life.”
According to Clayton, in two weeks, they had raised about $50. With Gress matching funds, they had nearly $100 and, encouraged by the students’ enthusiasm for giving, Principal Tom Milliron offered to donate 50 percent of what the students contributed, pushing them over $100, which has become pyramids of stacked cans and boxes, from peanut butter to macaroni and cheese to canned vegetables and pumpkin pie filling.
The students admit to the real reasons for giving pretty easily, almost all of them describing giving to the community as making them feel good.
Ma’aki offers, “It feels good to give the community more.”
Jessica Scaife had much the same to say, “It was also just fun to give money to a cause, it makes you feel good.”
Melanie Shaw adds it feels “Good, because you’re helping someone else out.”
A surprisingly large portion of the class said they had given donations before, mostly through class projects and church involvement, and most felt they gained something from giving.
Ravencloud Hall offered a bit of wisdom, which might seem like surprisingly sage advice coming from a girl in her early teens.
“I believe that donations are a really big part of the community and everyone should pitch in because it’s not only helping random people, it’s helping them, because what if they’re ever in that situation?,” she asked.
The students of Gress’ class weren’t oblivious to the state of the economy and student Kayli Backes said she even reads the newspaper sometimes, for “the important stuff.”
Backes explained her motivation as “giving back to the people who have lost their jobs or can’t afford a lot of food, so they know there’s help out there and that somebody cares.” Nichols had mentioned layoffs as well, when talking about people who might need the services of the Southeast Alaska Food Bank.
Sidney Gray offered a nod in agreement. The students hope that their giving might set an example in the community.
Backes began, “Well, I hope by seeing a bunch of 13 and 14-year-olds donating money, I’d hope the community would want to–“ Gray took over the message, saying she hoped others in the community would donate, “because we’re just 13 and 14-year-olds and people don’t really think we can do that much stuff, but we’re helping the community.”
Giving at this age means giving a pretty substantial cut of one’s personal savings. Amy Spencer said she has an after school job and gets some money for chores. Nichols admitted to scouring his house for loose change. Lumba earned his money to donate raking leaves. Students gave of their allowance and extra lunch money suggested Kelley Olson, saying donations for the Food Bank are worth it.
Briana Sevenpiper suggests people “Keep helping out because some people don’t have the ability to keep food on their table and we can help them by donating.” While Olson adds, “Even if it’s just one can, it still helps.”
Taylor Sutak hopes “whoever needs food, shelter, whatever, gets what they need.”
While Gress might be out about $50, it is well worth it to him for the concrete proof that his students, in willingly giving to help those in need, seem to have really internalized the message of community.
So far some other classes at Floyd Dryden Middle School have collected cans, but Gress’ students hope that other classes, schools, and community organizations will look to them as an example and contribute this season.
Helmar suggested that this “really is the season for giving,” as the students described the project.
For more information about the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, visit their website at www.seakfoodbank.org.