For people around the country, Thanksgiving is a time to get together with those close to them and reflect upon what they are thankful for in life. With the holiday coming next month, Cheshire High School students are doing their part to assist those less fortunate in their community.
The Third Annual CHS Food Drive has scheduled their drop-off day for Saturday, Nov. 12, from 12 to 4 p.m. A school bus will be parked in front of the school, so students can load up food and non-perishable items to be donated to the Cheshire Community Food Pantry.
“I think it is very important to provide for those less fortunate or people who may not have as much on Thanksgiving,” explained senior Julia Swartz. “It is good to help those who need it. They can be your friends or neighbors.”
For the third straight year, the CHS Peer Health Educators and the National Honor Society are involved with planning the drive. Peer Health is an elective course in which students organize activities and events centered on leadership.
“For me, it has been such a gratifying experience,” said senior Julia Bailey, of joining Peer Health this year. “I knew that it would be about leadership, but to be able to have such an impact on the community, it is an amazing thing to be a part of.”
Due to the pandemic, starting the drive came with challenges back in 2020. In some cases, students had to use Zoom and Google Meet instead of talking to each other in person, but organizers persevered to make their first donation to the food pantry.
“I think in the first year, the kids did a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff to allow the drive to grow,” reflected Physical Education Teacher Dan Lee, who runs the Peer Health class.
Last year, CHS was able to increase their donation by over 1,500 pounds to hit a total amount of 6,900. This time, students and advisors would like to raise 8,000 to 10,000 pounds.
“You always like to do better than last year,” said Lee.
For organizers, getting more people involved is one of the goals this year. NHS and the Peer Health program have started reaching out to clubs and sports teams at CHS.
“The more groups we get the better because that means more food raised for the Food Pantry,” added senior Mike DeJoseph.
Bailey, senior Taya Buntin, DeJoseph, and Swartz are leading this year’s food drive.
“We are all involved in Peer Health,” stated Swartz. “I’m also an officer in NHS. I’m the communicator between the two (groups).”
While a collective donation will be made on Nov. 12, planning the drive starts much earlier. Using a street list, organizers will have students visit homes around Cheshire and leave bags for residents to place their donations.
Right now, the students plan to drop off bags on Nov. 4 and then return to pick them up on Nov. 9-10.
“Students can sign up for their streets and more,” said Swartz. “People can also be street captains and be responsible for getting the bags.”
Lee said that the Ryan T. Lee Memorial Foundation will donate 2,500 to 3,000 bags for the drive. Inside the bags, students will leave item lists for what the Food Pantry is looking for right now.
Old-fashioned oatmeal, salad dressing, pasta, and canned soup are among the top items this year, however, organizers want people to feel comfortable donating other things.
“One of our goals is to get a wide list,” said Bailey. “It (the bag list) is an idea of what is needed.”
Students will bring donations to CHS on Nov. 12, but for people who don’t get a bag, they can still bring items to put on the bus.
“I hope that people can feel like they have made an impact on everyone else,” stated Bailey.
For the drop-off, sports teams like CHS boys’ basketball have committed to help with loading items.
“Hopefully, we can fill the bus up to full capacity,” stated Bailey.
Lee likes how this project is organized by the student body.
“It is great for them to get real-life experience,” said Lee. “There are a lot of details and moving parts, like coordinating the streets and the drop-off. I’ve been impressed by the student’s ability to meet the expectations.”
Ann Wellspeak and Mary Flood, who both work in the CHS library, have joined Lee as adult volunteers with the drive. Flood has designed logos for the food bags.
“She is a great artist. It is nice that she has donated her time to the project,” stated Lee.
The food drive is one of multiple projects that Peer Health Educators run throughout the school year. The Supermarket Challenge, Unified Basketball Tournament, and the Ryan T. Lee Memorial Foundation’s Excellence in Leadership Conference are some of their bigger activities.
For the leadership conference, students look forward to working with elementary, middle, and high school students from Cheshire and other towns.
“It is good to see that the students take time out of their busy schedule to grow the activities,” stated Lee.
“Coach Lee is such a good teacher,” added DeJoseph. “He has a great passion for leadership and community service. I’ve learned so much from him as a teacher.”