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Center School students lend ‘helping hand’ to Open Pantry

Date: 10/24/2013

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – This year, students at the Center School are lending a hand to help fight hunger in Western Massachusetts.

This month the school launched its inaugural Center School Helping Hands campaign in which students make sandwiches to be delivered to The Open Pantry’s Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen in Springfield.

Center School Principal Donna Hutton credited parent Amy Nedwed with bringing the concept, sponsored by the school’s parent teacher organization (PTO), to her and said it was a perfect project based on what the school has learned parents want from the PTO.

“One thing that [parents] really want is less fundraisers and more family time, community service and community-oriented things,” she said. “Amy’s idea fits in nicely with what our families are asking for.”

Nedwed said Helping Hands is a special program because it puts the children front and center and involves them in the service on a very real level.

“A lot of times giving back to the community tends to be more adult involvement and the adults sharing what they’re doing with the children, which is wonderful, but this was a great hands-on experience I had done with my children through our church, and the idea was so amazing because the kids are the ones who are actually doing it,” she said.

In order to make sure that all levels are involved, each month, a different grade will have their turn to assemble the lunches.

“Logistically, we were trying to figure out how to involve all grade levels and we decided that grade-level teams felt like a good route to go,” Hutton said.

Parents of students may voluntarily donate sandwich materials. The school suggests a pound of deli meat, a half-pound of cheese and two loaves of bread, though anything that can be spared is appreciated. Condiments and plastic bags are being provided by the Longmeadow Big Y and CVS.

On Oct. 16, the fifth grade students kicked off the initiative at 7:50 a.m., about an hour before the school day began.

“We started with our fifth graders because they are our leaders,” Hutton explained. “We’re going to have them now talk with the fourth graders and go share with the fourth graders about their experience, maybe give them some advice and some guidance.”

The fifth grade students needed little assistance or motivation, Nedwed said.

“We [the parents] didn’t have to do too much,” she said. “They really took to organizing themselves and they just got going.”

While they were excited about getting the work done, seeing the end result of their labor really put things in perspective for them, Hutton said.

“When they saw the boxes filled with sandwiches before they left, they were in awe of the quantity,” she said. “It was a neat thing for them to see the results of their hard work.”

In addition to helping in getting the other grades excited about the project, the fifth graders will have the special duty of helping the kindergarteners when their turn comes along in March.

“They have a buddy system. Our fifth grade teams up with the kindergarten throughout the whole year, so we’re going to have the fifth graders help their buddies,” Hutton said.

Nedwed said connecting the fifth grade and the kindergarten was a great idea, not only in terms of getting the work done, but in emphasizing the importance of what they are doing.

“I have a kindergartener in the school and they love having their fifth grade buddies,” she said. “It’s nice because the younger kids are looking up to the older kids who are so excited about this. It really fosters community in the school.”

Nedwed and Hutton both pointed out that the school’s community service doesn’t end with making sandwiches. In fact, the initiative has sparked more ideas, some from the children.

Hutton said Elizabeth Bone, a member of the School Committee, would host a shoe collection later this year. Nedwed’s son Ryan also suggested a T-shirt project.

“He came up with a great idea to make up and sell T-shirts with the logo for Center School Helping Hands with the hope that any profit we make will go to a charity,” Nedwed said. “The kids can wear the shirts when they’re [making sandwiches] and the other kids can wear it as well as a show of support, again building the sense of community in the school and the excitement of helping others.”

A schedule outlining when each class is set to participate can be found on the Center School website,