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The Kids Run the Food Drive

Guest post by Galila Kitzes: A few weeks ago, the students of ACE Charter School– a small kindergarten through 6th grade elementary school in Vacaville – organized and ran their own food drive. ACE has a dedicated group of parents who support all kinds of community activism. But as much as we parents like to engage the kids, sometimes it’s hard to turn off our own need to control outcomes and take a chance on letting the kids do it…letting the proverbial chips fall where they may even if it’s not in pretty, well planned patterns of success.

So, we took a little risk. Students planned as much of the drive that they reasonably could. On a Friday morning five, multi-age classes planned one aspect of the food drive and a team of about 15 parents guided them through it. The parent volunteers didn’t give long explanations about how Food Banks or Food Pantries work. Instead, we asked students to tell us in their own words what they thought a food drive was – which took about 3 minutes – then they got to work. Our youngest classes decorated collection boxes for each classroom and made posters. The middle grades made fliers and ideas for meal donations instead of just single item donations. They also created an enormous chart on which to display each class’s progress for item collection. The oldest class came up with the general plan: how long the food drive would run, collection goals for each student and, of course, the prize for the classroom that collected the most items. In addition to setting up the rules of the food drive, the older students played the Wheel of Life with Houston, a Food Bank Ambassador. This game teaches kids, in a straight forward manner, how a person or a family becomes in need of emergency food assistance. Kids’ thinking evolved from seeing hunger as only an issue for the homeless to understanding how a family with a home, electricity and even a vehicle can end up hungry.

After each class had worked on its part, all five classrooms convened in the multi-purpose room, and kids from each classroom took turns explaining what they had done and what the other kids would need to do. The kids strode confidently up to microphones to speak: sometimes awkwardly and with wrong information, sometimes clearly and powerfully. The student audience listened with interest to them all. After this sharing of information and food drive planning, the kids went along their merry way to recess.

The parents left on their merry way, too. The older students decided to let the drive run for 3 weeks…how would all this work out? The students had copies of the fliers they designed …but would they just end up flying around the playground much to the chagrin of the custodian or would they make it to family, neighbors and other potential supporters? The posters the students made certainly looked cute and inspiring around the campus…but would anyone even notice them after a few days, let alone a couple of weeks? The chart had to be lugged into and out of the school daily. Would it be a source of motivation? Would the students really care about it after the novelty wore off?

What was the end result? The items came pouring in: 327 lbs the first week, 472 lbs the second week and 434 lbs the final week. One family even donated $100 for the Food Bank. The chart became the focal point for daily inspiration. Each day, kids gathered during recess and after school to count “cans” (the symbol used to represent a donated item). Parents congregated around the graph, too, interested in where their child’s class was relative to the other classes. This competition fueled their motivation, far more than posters and more than fliers. Thanks to Joan Tomasini at the Food Bank, the kids learned that 1,233 lbs of food was an unusually high amount for a school of our size (144 students) and a pride-worthy achievement.

Any school that is interested in teaching kids to be activists in their own community should consider running a food drive in this manner. Given that 1 in 4 recipients of emergency food is a child, kids have a vested interest in supporting organizations like the Food Bank.