Fighting hunger, made fun

Pupils at Crofton Middle School score big in statewide competitive food drive

May 14, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Will Hutchison, an eighth-grader at Crofton Middle School, brought 150 pounds of food to school over four weeks last fall. Though he's a growing 13-year-old, the food wasn't for him.

His contribution helped the school tally 75,450 pounds for the Maryland Food Bank's annual Harvest for the Hungry Kids Helping Kids Drive.

On Wednesday, Crofton Middle School was honored as the state's top donor to the effort. In fact, Anne Arundel schools took the top four slots and seven of the top 10 out of 365 schools that participated.

"They do a bang-up job," Maryland Food Bank spokeswoman Shanna Yetman said of Anne Arundel schools.

At a ceremony in the Miller Senate Building in Annapolis, several state officials recognized the 10 schools that collected the most pounds of food, as well as the five schools that collected the most pounds per student.

This year, the top 15 schools brought in nearly 500,000 pounds of food, said Yetman.

The food bank distributes about 13.6 million pounds of food annually through soup kitchens, food pantries and emergency shelters throughout the state, she said. Because the food collected by students goes to their local food banks, Anne Arundel County particularly benefits.

Bruce Michalec, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Food and Resource Bank, said Kids Helping Kids brings in nearly half the food that the center receives and distributes each year.

This year especially, the food was desperately needed, he said, because rising gas and electricity prices forced some people to choose between food and heat.

Because the students in Anne Arundel schools are such excellent food collectors, Michalec is able to focus on other things, like collecting furniture, appliances and cars, he said. He pointed out that students in Anne Arundel County have been collecting enormous amounts of food since he helped start the food bank in 1986.

Crofton is consistently among the county and state's biggest contributors.

This year, it brought in nearly 33,000 pounds more than the drive's second-place school, South River High in Edgewater, which collected 42,917 pounds of food.

A major reason is the dedication of teachers like Keith Fontaine, who teaches eighth-grade history and has taken the lead in Crofton's food drive. Fontaine credited a former teacher, John Camm, with starting the project. "I built on the process he started," Fontaine said.

This year, Camm is teaching at Broadneck High School, which placed third with 11,394 pounds of food.

Crofton's food-drive strategy begins when Fontaine meets with teachers early in the fall to urge them to discuss the food drive with pupils. Then the motivating power of competition is unleashed.

Not only do the best collectors compete in a pupil-teacher basketball game, but pupils are constantly reminded through morning announcements which grades and homerooms have collected more than others.

Hutchison said his teachers told him why the drive was important - "It's basically to help the hungry" - and his school made it fun.

Casey O'Brien, 13, an eighth-grader, was so motivated that she donated about $70 in change that she had saved, and collected food in her neighborhood.

Pupils in the homeroom of eighth-grade science teacher Christopher Wells brought in more than 7,000 pounds of food.

State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer praised the children who had collected the food, as well as the adults who had inspired them to do it.

Schaefer pointed out that most of the pupils in the room would never see where the food goes and never experience hunger themselves.

But he reminded them that others desperately need that food.

"If somebody doesn't care about somebody else, what a world this would be," he said.

Top food collectors

Seven of the 10 Maryland schools honored Wednesday for collecting the most pounds of food for the Maryland Food Bank's Harvest for the Hungry Kids Helping Kids Drive were from Anne Arundel County:

Crofton Middle School: 75,450 pounds

South River High School: 42,917 pounds

Broadneck High School: 11,394 pounds

Northeast High School: 11,036 pounds

Stephen Decatur High School (Worcester County): 10,872 pounds

Youth's Benefit Elementary School (Harford County): 10,824 pounds

Leonardtown High School (St. Mary's County): 10,039 pounds

Sunset Elementary School: 9,456 pounds

Indian Creek School: 7,825 pounds

Davidsonville Elementary School: 7,623 pounds

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