Young pupils develop a commitment to caring

December 27, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

THE MAKESHIFT memorial in Philip Taylor's office at Cockeysville Middle School -- complete with a small mock deer with antlers -- reads "You're a DEER principal."

Taylor's fellow staff members at Cockeysville made the gesture to honor their principal for the time he wrestled a deer that had broken into the school. The memorial does not indicate how many takedowns and near-falls Taylor scored against the critter, or whether he won by decision or pin. And it's just as well. Sitting in his office Monday, Taylor talked about something he felt was far more important: those 813 Cockeysville Middle School pupils who raised 21,000 pounds of food for the 2003 Harvest for the Hungry's Kids Helping Kids Campaign.

The campaign lasted from Oct. 20 through Nov. 7. The final tallies of just how many schools participated and how much food was collected came in this past week. Some 333 schools throughout the state took part. Larry Adam, founder of Harvest for the Hungry, said that the 430,000 pounds raised in this year's holiday food drive represent a new record. Since 1997, the drive has yielded 1.7 million pounds of food.

Taylor said Cockeysville has "a long tradition of helping Harvest for the Hungry." Two years ago, the school raised 18,000 pounds. Last year, the figure was 19,000. With the 2,000 extra pounds raised this year, Cockeysville Middle was No. 1 among Baltimore County and city schools, and among the top schools in the state in "giving per pupil," Adam said.

"We have a full, year-round commitment to serving the community," Taylor said. "Teaching children about caring is a very important part of what we do."

Although Taylor gives pupils incentives to participate by having a competition between homerooms -- the winners get a visit to a nearby sports arcade, and classes that bring in a minimum of 650 pounds receive Krispy Kreme doughnuts -- he makes sure they don't lose sight of the bigger purpose for the food drive."My job," Taylor stressed, "is to make sure the kids get the real meaning behind this."

That meaning wasn't lost on four pupils from the Cockeysville homeroom class that raised the most food -- more than 3,000 pounds' worth. Bethany Bettencourt, Arta Aramideh, Jamie Cowherd and Molly McEvoy, all 12 years old and all seventh-graders, are the four Taylor named as being among the most active in the food drive.

This socially conscious quartet said most students brought in canned goods a trickle at a time by stuffing them in their backpacks. Molly confessed that she "kind of got in trouble" by cleaning her house of too much food. Her dad admonished her for overdoing it, but Molly still stashed one bag in the dining room on the last day of the drive and took it to school.

While most pupils asked their parents for canned goods, Arta and Jamie teamed up and went around their neighborhood to solicit not only food, but money to buy food. They put the vittles in boxes and, like other children, had their parents drive the donations to the school. Molly and Bethany also collected enough money to go to the store and buy several 50-pound bags of rice.

It may have been the rice that saved the day for their class and gave them the food drive victory.

"On the last day of the food drive," Arta remembered, "the class was 300 pounds short [of winning]. One student's mom drove up with over 400 pounds of rice. That put us over."

But once they were over, the four didn't lose sight of the real winners in the food drive: Maryland's hungry. Jamie said he appreciated the chance to "give back" to those less fortunate. Arta said those more fortunate often "take for granted what we have." Molly said it made her feel good that hungry families would have a hot meal this holiday season, while Bethany added that "it made you wake up and realize not everybody has the life that you do."

Taylor, in trying to get adolescents to understand the importance of helping those less fortunate, has clearly done his job. The youngsters not only understand the necessity of the food drive, but also its limitations. Jamie showed perspicacity by observing that the donated food will not necessarily give the less fortunate a better meal.

"They're having a satisfactory meal," Jamie noted, "as opposed to no meal at all." And on the subject of what they would do if the Harvest for the Hungry campaign and the Maryland Food Bank-- which distributes the donated food -- were to suddenly vanish and there were no incentives of Krispy Kremes or trips to sports arcades, the four were unanimous in their answer.

All agreed they'd still bring in food for the less fortunate.

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