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Not just another canned food drive

What would you do if you won a million dollars?
Maybe buy a fancy house, a sports car, an exotic cruise, the latest tech gadget or entertainment package?
When a local teacher posed that question to students recently, she didn’t get all typical responses. More than one said they’d buy groceries for their families, because they had no food in the house.
Every holiday season, canned food drives are as traditional as Christmas carols and tinsel on the tree… but this year, they’re even more meaningful because the need in our community is at an all-time high. Local charities report, on average, double the need of recent years.
Last week, it looked like students at James A. Garfield High School might fail to meet their goal of collecting 10,000 cans for this year’s annual food drive. They missed their goal last year — gathering 9,300 cans of food — and it appeared this might be a sad new trend, said food drive coordinator and art teacher Libby Frato-Sweeney.
But thanks to a final-day push, JAG High School students actually surpassed their goal and collected 10,629 food items for hungry neighbors this holiday season. Teachers lifted the customary no-texting ban during classtime, so students barraged their parents and grandparents with appeals to bring non-perishable food to the school before the end of the school day… and they delivered 800-900 food items in a few hours’ time.
[pulledquote]students collected 10,629 food items for hungry neighbors this holiday season[/pulledquote]One parent came in with grocery bags full of baking ingredients because she used to be in need, and couldn’t afford to stretch her budget enough to do traditional cookie-baking with her children. She remembered how much she missed being able to do that, so she made sure she provided baking supplies for others who would appreciate it.
Along with the non-perishable food, students also collected books, toys, hats and mittens for those in need. They even raised $1,500 from the annual in-school Turkey Trot race and Spanish class concert. (Teachers Mr. Bennett and Ms. Maresh each raised more than $400 in Turkey Trot pledges.) Mayor Craig Moser boosted students’ morale by bringing donuts in during the collection drive.
“With everybody doing their part, we’re able to provide a merrier Christmas for area families,” said Frato-Sweeney. And the students were rewarded with a whole-school concert the last day of school before winter break, known as Howling with Howell (thanks to the musical talents of language arts teacher Mr. Howell and his hand-picked student accompanists).
The impact of their giving is widespread. The food has been distributed to several area charities, including the hot lunch program at the Garrettsville United Methodist Church, the new Nelson Food Pantry (formerly operated by the PeopleTree, located at Rafael’s Bakery at Nelson Circle starting in February), the 4Cs in Mantua (at Hilltop Disciples of Christ Church), Windham Toys for Tots, and for families identified by school nurse Ms. Poole. The food also augmented 175 turkey dinners given to needy families, which included a frozen turkey, a bag of potatoes, and a grocery sack of canned food for each recipient.
While middle school students collected gift items for The People Tree charity, the elementary school also got into the act, with gym teacher Mr. Rado offering to take a cake in the face if the students managed to collect 700 cake mixes to distribute to those in need. The kids easily surpassed that goal, bringing in a total of 840 cake mixes for the cause.
Frato-Sweeney says that contributions of food during the holidays go beyond taming hungry stomachs. Food and family traditions go hand-in-hand. When there’s plenty of good food to go around, families nourish one another with merry memories that can last a lifetime.

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