Poverty and hunger are two challenges that just about every school must confront, but it is how they confront it that speaks to the school culture. In the fall of 2009, I challenged my Government students to create a school and community-based project that would last beyond their years at Maine-Endwell. Out of that idea, the M-EALS (Maine-Endwell Assisting Local Spartans) Program was born. We currently delivery a bag of food (fresh fruit, bagels, pasta, sauce, cereal, rice, a protein (tuna, chicken or peanut butter), canned fruit, soup, canned pasta, canned vegetables and a coupon for a gallon of milk at two local establishments) each week to the homes of 70+ families. We have students that work in the pantry organizing the food (we have pantries in all four buildings) and packing the bags for deliveries, holding foodraisers and fundraisers inside and outside of school, Girl Scout troops that raise money through cookie sales and asking people to bring canned goods instead of presents to their birthday parties. The students have a level of empathy that I rarely see outside of our district. They have an understanding that not everyone is in the same financial situation and that you don’t know what challenges others are facing, no matter how well you know them.
Another example of service learning is the Key Club Holiday Party. We typically have 150 students in need at this event. Our volunteers design fun crafts and games, read to the students, provide free books, wrap a present for each student based on their indicated interests and play one on one with the students. I hear from many of the parents at the end that they haven’t seen their child have this much fun in a long time. Our volunteers are always humble and kind and understand that their volunteer time makes a world of difference for students who may not enjoy the holiday season since it is one more reminder that they don’t have what they think everyone else has.