Elizabeth Barrett Elementary School's four kindergarten classes are learning what it means to open their hearts and minds to the spirit of helping those in need this holiday season, and year-round.
The students have been busy collecting perishables and non-perishables in their classrooms this week for donations to the Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area free food shed.
Kindergarten teacher Bhari Rovere said she reached out to Helping Hands earlier in the school year to find out what they could do to help, after her Grade 3 class successfully spearheaded a project with the non-profit that involved putting up signs of kindness around the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
"This year was my first year back in kindergarten after quite a few years," said Rovere. "I just got in touch with Melia Hayes from Helping Hands and asked her if there was anything she thought kindergarteners could do during COVID and she suggested the Christmas food drive with all the items that are really liked during Christmas time, that maybe some people couldn't afford."
Between the four kindergarten classes taught by Rovere, Lauren Southwick, Jeanne Duvette and Kari Lee, they were able to collect about a dozen big boxes of food — enough to fill a van.
All four teachers stopped by the shed at the end of the school day Dec. 17 to meet with Helping Hands and stock up the pantry, fridge and freezer with frozen goods, pantry staples and specialties, and lots of Christmas goodies to support those less fortunate in the community.
"Doing an act like this also fits into our curriculum," added Rovere. "We're looking at the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Indigenous studies this year at our school, and this month is humility — which means to live selflessly. So, we wanted to bring something tangible like this to the students."
According to Helping Hands executive director Chairra Nicolle, the kindergarten classes are the youngest supporters to have worked with the non-profit.
"I think it's important to get kids started that young and to understand that not everyone in the community has the luxuries that they have at home," she said. "And to realize that maybe even some of the kids in their class are struggling to have food, so when they see a kid come to school that doesn't have lunch or only has a few items, it can teach them how to share and just help put them in the right direction."
By running the food drive, the kindergarten classes are supporting families within their own school who utilize the free food shed or Helping Hand's other food security programs.
"We do have families that access the food programs at the school," Nicolle said. "So this is an opportune time [for donations] because the kids will be out of school for two weeks and not have access to those in-school programs.
"Having additional items in the free food shed during that time will help lessen the impact on those families that do rely on food-based programs at school."
If you wish to help stock up the free food shed before the holidays, Helping Hands is encouraging donations of things like canned and frozen veggies, packaged gravy, frozen turkeys, pies, cream, milk, butter, boxed stuffing and mashed potatoes, pie filling, chocolates and cranberry ginger ale, to name a few.