Cole White drops off canned food Thursday morning in Michele Conroy's class at Sunset Elementary. The second-grade class collected more than 40 items, including cans of peas and noodles.

Photo by Jerry Raehal

Cole White drops off canned food Thursday morning in Michele Conroy's class at Sunset Elementary. The second-grade class collected more than 40 items, including cans of peas and noodles.

'This is your chance'

School-sponsored canned food drives teach students to be responsible, give to the needy

— Michele Conroy set a goal.

The Sunset Elementary second-grade teacher encouraged each of her 19 students to bring in one can of food to donate to the Inter Faith Food Bank of Craig.

One student exceeded that expectation, arriving to class with a bag full of canned foods, she said.

Conroy asked the child if she had raided her parents' pantry.

The child's parent replied, "Oh, no - she went to grandma's house, too."

During December, Conroy teaches her students that the holidays are about more than receiving gifts.

And she isn't alone. Other local teachers have hosted holiday canned food drives, teaching students to give.

All about giving

In Conroy's classroom, the food drive began with a lesson, since part of the second-grade curriculum at Sunset requires students to learn about other cultures, Conroy said.

While studying other countries' holiday customs, Conroy and her students noticed a common theme.

While most cultures spent time with family and friends during the holidays, they also helped others.

"We tried to incorporate that" in the classroom, she said.

A Christmas tree sits in the second-grade teacher's classroom. Every morning, the students bring in their cans and put them under the tree.

The students know their gifts are going to benefit people in need who they probably have never met before, Conroy said.

The students "know it has nothing to do with them," she said. "They are getting to that age where they (know) that the holidays are about giving to others."

The 'ra ra' factor

Drew Morris, a first-year teacher at Craig Middle School, organized the school's canned food drive. Students collected $2,400 worth of canned foods and cash for the food bank, he said.

Although many students want to help people in need, they sometimes need encouragement - some "ra ra" - to get motivated, Morris said.

"They've got other things going on in their heads," he said.

Morris did find a motivator: a competition between homeroom classes.

The homeroom that collected the most won a skating party while second- and third-place winners were awarded a pizza party and $5 gift certificates to Taco Bell, respectively.

The goal?

To get as many students to participate as possible, Morris said.

Craig Intermediate School teachers took a different route.

The school also hosted a canned food drive this December. Unlike past drives, the students were unaided by the high school Key Club.

Rather than promising students a pizza party, as they did for previous food drives, CIS Counselor Renee Ruhlman said the teachers gave students a responsibility.

"This is your chance," Ruhlman said school administrators told the children. "You're responsible."

The teachers trusted that students' sense of accomplishment at a job well done would do the rest.

Ruhlman had her concerns, she said.

"It was more an intrinsic motivator," she said. "It's always a gamble."

This time, the gamble paid off. More students participated than Ruhlman anticipated, collecting 149 pounds of non-perishable food.

A shared responsibility

Julia Ortiz, Moffat County High School Spanish and world history teacher, helped her students organize a food drive.

To her surprise, the students were the ones who offered the idea.

"I'm really proud of them," Ortiz said. "They've grown up a lot since they started class."

A class discussion about poverty, both internationally and locally, led to the idea.

"It was our responsibility" to help individuals in need, Ortiz said. "Even if our blessings are small, they're still blessings."

Organizing the drive has not always been easy, Ortiz said.

Her students have learned that such an event depends upon people - people who may be at busy points of their lives.

"We're asking people who work really hard" to donate to the food drive, she said.

The final stop

Ultimately, most of the food the students collect ends up at one location: the Inter Faith Food Bank of Craig.

The non-profit organization, which served 2,499 individuals in 2006, relies on donations from the schools during the holiday season, treasurer and bookkeeper Claudean Talkington said.

Some schools begin collecting before the holidays begin.

The Moffat County High School Key Club has brought in about 1,252 pounds of non-perishable food. Craig Middle School donated 1,236 pounds to the food bank.

And more is coming.

Craig Intermediate School, Sunset Elementary and the high school are scheduled to bring in more food this week.

The schools' timing is advantageous for the food bank, which often runs low on supplies while assembling Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, Talkington said.

"It really, really helps," she said.

When the children bring in their schools' donations, Talkington sees their pride in their work.

"They're all so pleased when they collect so much," she said. "I think they want to help the needy."

Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com

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