Why is it that we only do food drives during the holidays?
That's what some students in Ewing Young Elementary School's K-Kids student leadership program wondered earlier this year.
Volunteer program leader and parent Michaelle Primavera thought it was a great question, so she tasked her group of 28 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students with figuring out a way they could help out.
Their solution was to establish the school's Pioneer Pantry, which was erected on school grounds in late May.
"Now our biggest thing is getting the word out to the people who really need it because some of the other food pantries in the area tend to empty out pretty quickly," Primavera said. "We're hoping this one will help alleviate some of the stress on those. Since we're so rural, it's hard for people to make it down to F.I.S.H. and the other pantries."
K-Kids, which is supported by the Kiwanis, is very much student led, and the pantry project was no different, as Primavera had each student submit a design for it. After rounds of voting, the top three designs were combined into one.
The group, which met once a week on late-start days, then wrote a grant proposal and pitched it to a group of teachers and the Kiwanis, who ultimately provided the funding.
The pantry was also intended, at least partially, to supplement the school's Friday food backpack program, as Primavera wanted to help relieve some of the burden of supplying it, which she felt had fallen entirely too much on the teaching staff.
Primavera said the community quickly responded to the project, as numerous donations and offers to provide supplies flooded in. The students also held a one-week food drive in the school to get it stocked for the first time.
"Even when we were building it over a weekend, we had a number of people come by because they were curious," Primavera said. "People were just super excited. Since it was built, it's been stuffed to the brim because people are so excited to be contributing to it."
The pantry may be the most visible project undertaken by the group this year, but it was far from the only one. The group also held a food drive for a local animal shelter, made and distributed "love rocks" in the community and helped stock and operate the school store, to name just a few of their efforts.
"They decided they wanted to focus on community events because they're very conscious of what's going on in our world and the news," Primavera said. "Especially during the holidays and the election time we were hearing about police officers getting hurt, so we made cookies and cards for all of the police officers in Newberg and the fire department."
Primavera praised the students for being focused and for making anti-bullying a priority.
"Our approach to it was just teaching general kindness all around and inclusion," she said. "It was very important to us as a group, that no matter where you come from or what your background is, you should feel included. Especially with us being so rural, again, that was something they wanted to focus on. They've done some pretty amazing things this year."
The students also established a mentoring program that introduced second grade students to the K-Kids program during the second semester. There are even some activities, like volunteering at the animal shelter, planned for the summer.
According to Newberg Kiwanian Kevin Purcell, K-Kids clubs also operated at Mabel Rush and Joan Austin elementary schools, with a fourth at Edwards just getting off the ground for the 2017-2018 school year but still in need a of a volunteer advisor.