It’s being called a miracle that almost didn’t happen at Edgewood Middle School.
Every year the Warsaw school has a canned food drive to fill the Combined Community Services and Our Father’s House food pantries, as well as to provide for Edgewood families who need a little help during the holidays.
Under pressure to raise test scores and make sure every student has high growth in learning, many at the school didn’t think it could be done again. At most, school officials thought they might be able to provide for some of the families in need at Edgewood.
Teacher Tanya Coon said the food drives in the past resulted in so much food in her room, it was hard to teach. With all the changes in what she had to do in her classroom, she didn’t want to have to teach around it.
David Cook, language arts teacher, didn’t want to do it at first either. He knew how much work it was.
“And then a miracle happened,” according to an email from Principal JoElla Smyth.
“I felt like a huge jerk, thinking of myself only and not of the people who benefited. It didn’t take that much time,” Coon said in an interview Thursday.
Cook couldn’t live with himself either not having the food drive. One by one, teachers began saying they were in, Smyth said yesterday.
For past food drives, which were a inter-class competition, Cook would take groups of students to Owen’s Supermarket and collect non-perishable food items. Being competitive, Cook wanted to win.
Coon contacted him Friday about doing the food drive this year and collecting at the stores. On Saturday, Coon and teacher Tammy Adamiec began organizing the food drive at the grocery stores.
“It’s been awesome to have a whole-school approach,” Coon said.
“I’ve been in those shoes, as a kid, to go without so I didn’t want anyone else to go without,” Cook said yesterday.
The kids happily jumped on board.
“I think it is good because we all know it’s going to a good cause and the school has really participated in it and it brought us together,” said eighth-grader Ashlynn Hepler.
Students and staff started going out to Owen’s this week to collect items from giving shoppers. The boys and girls basketball teams each took shifts. Former Edgewood teacher Ben Barkey – who is now at Washington STEM Academy – will work a shift with Edgewood alums.
Cook said Owen’s has been fantastic in helping feed families and students that don’t have food. “There’s a huge call for CCS and Our Father’s House to feed families,” he said.
Edgewood students will be at the “new” Owen’s on East Center Street today from 4 to 8 p.m. They will be at the “old” Owen’s on West Market Street from 4 to 8 p.m. today and all next week through Dec. 19.
On Dec. 22, after students and staff go on Christmas break, trucks of the remaining goods will be loaded by staff and student volunteers for CCS and Our Father’s House.
“Warsaw is an amazing community,” Cook and Smyth agreed Thursday.
“The old Owen’s is fantastic, the new Owen’s is great,” Cook added.
From just Tuesday and Wednesday, the students collected about 1,500 items. “There also was some stuff before,” Coon said, raising the total to approximately 3,000 items.
Eighth-grader Addie Dickerhoff said, “I’m surprised because there’s a lot more than we all expected, and we all came together for a good cause.”
“It’s good to know that other people will have food for Christmas,” said eighth-grader Kenzie Martz.
Cook said it wasn’t about him and the other teachers. “It’s about the kids working together and servicing our community,” he said.
“It’s important for students to help others because helping others can bring students together, and it teaches them how to care for others and shows the importance of doing good,” eighth-grader Chloe Hoskins said.
“It’s all due to the community support,” Coon said. “The community bought extra. Owen’s has been very generous. They allow us to come every year.”
“Without Owen’s we would be in trouble,” Cook said.
At the choir concert, directed by Dan Beam, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the commons, the food donated will be a part of the stage. People also can donate more food items at the concert. A Salvation Army bucket also will be on hand for donations.
“He’s organized this,” Smyth said of Beam. “He set the kids’ routines up around the donations.”
The food drive will help 39 Edgewood families have plenty for the holidays, with enough left over to help a few families at other schools and still provide for CCS and Our Father’s House. When the families come to Edgewood Thursday to pick up the groceries, Smyth said they also will get a grocery bag to shop in the school’s pantry for items unique to them.
“We will have the industrial tech room full. In the past, we took truck loads away,” Smyth said. “I didn’t think we’d do it this year, but it’s been absolutely amazing. I actually felt like it was a Christmas miracle. I thought we’d barely have food for the families we committed to. When I saw an army of students walking into the school carrying armloads of food, I just stood there clapping for them, tears running down my face. The kids have a great heart. The staff is amazing.”
Parents as Partners in Education is providing perishable food items like meat, milk, bread and eggs to help the families over the Christmas break.
Smyth said, “It’s going to be a good Christmas.”
She said it’s not about anyone receiving recognition, but accomplishing its mission of enriching the lives of others.
“When you’re trying to get students to pass tests and raise scores, you sometimes forget it’s about more than that,” she said.
“One of our first-year teachers said she couldn’t help at the door, but she gave a big check,” Smyth said. “There’s never going to be another year where we say we’re not doing this. This is Edgewood. This is who we are and who we want to be.”
Instead of a gift exchange, first-graders in Amy Swihart’s classroom at Madison Elementary School donate to the Animal Welfare League of Kosciusko County each year.
“We call it ‘Enriching the Lives of Our Furry Friends,’” said Swihart last night at the third annual event. “All kids love animals, so they want to help.”
“I love it because it’s teaching philanthropy to the children. A lot of kids don’t have that in their life. It makes you feel good,” said Darla McCammon, AWL executive director.
Giving to the shelter doesn’t cost much, Swihart said. A person can donate something as simple as their stack of newspapers.
“Dog food is very helpful right now because of the prices,” McCammon suggested.
At the start of each school year, Swihart tells parents to start saving their newspapers. Three weeks before the event, she sends out an email reminding parents of the event. The parents and children then deliver the items to the AWL, with the first-graders taking some time to pet and play with the animals. After the donation was made yesterday, the students and their parents went to McDonald’s for the class’s monthly play night.
“For the age of her kids, she’s a great teacher,” McCammon said.
Swihart said she has a great bunch of parents. She also challenged the other schools in the community to collect for the animal shelter. If just all the Warsaw schools did something in December, she said the shelter would have a lot more of the stuff it needs for the cats and dogs it houses.
The shelter is always in need of the following items: clay cat litter, pet food, paper towels, liquid laundry detergent, hand sanitizer, bleach, almost all office supplies and printer inks (call for types), soft towels, disinfecting wipes, Neutra-air freshener refill cans, Frontline for fleas, dish soap, toilet tissue, hand soap, Kleenex and Staples rewards coupons. These items can be brought to the shelter during open hours.
The animal shelter is at 3489 E. CR 100S, Pierceton. For more information, call 574-267-3008; visit its website at awlwarsaw.com; or find it on Facebook at AWLeague.
McCammon said the shelter has a capital campaign going on now to raise money for a new shelter. Contributions are greatly appreciated, she said.
(Story By The Times Union)