Gardner Gives Back engages students in community service projects

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Will Johnson, center, pours rice into a funnel, while Emily Pirozzo, left, and Matteo Pirozzo, right, hold the plastic bag underneath. They were working to assemble meals for people in need as part of a community service project last week at Gardner Bullis School.

In less than two hours last week, more than 100 students and their families at Gardner Bullis School packaged 10,000 meals for people in need around the globe.

Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organization, partnered with Gardner Gives Back, a new parent-run community service program on campus, to host the meal packaging event Sept. 19.

Ali Granbery, who has a first-grader at Gardner Bullis, started Gardner Gives Back as a way to get young children involved in community service projects, which she said she has long been passionate about.

“Especially growing up in an area like we do, the idea of giving back … and teaching the kids the importance of helping other people (is important),” Granbery said, noting the affluent area Gardner Bullis draws its students from.

Last year, Granbery worked with the school to hold a fundraiser for Project Night Night, a charity that supports children in homeless shelters. The group gives each child a tote bag filled with a stuffed animal, blanket and book.

The event was held in conjunction with the school’s book fair, which is run annually in December, so families could donate books purchased at the fair. Ultimately, the school created 100 bags for kids in need.

“I knew I wanted to turn it into something more; I was just trying to get my feet wet,” Granbery said of the drive.

Giving back

In the spring, she met with the school’s principal and PTA president to discuss creating a more formal community service organization at the school. From there, Gardner Gives Back was born.

The idea is to find volunteer opportunities that young children can take part in so that the students can be involved in the process of giving back.

After speaking with a parent involved in a community service group at Almond School, Granbery decided to organize a food packaging event with Rise Against Hunger.

Gardner Bullis families worked to put together bagged meals, which each contained rice, dried vegetables, soy protein and a vitamin packet. Once the meals were assembled and weighed, the plastic bags were sealed, put in boxes and loaded onto a truck.

Sixth-grader Kennedy Hautop said the event was a chance to spend time with her friends, while also doing something that would make a positive impact. The meal packaging process wasn’t new to her, as she had also packed meals for Rise Against Hunger with her Girl Scout troop.

“I like being able to package the stuff into meals and know I’m helping people that need it,” Kennedy said.

The plan is for Gardner Gives Back to host a variety of volunteer activities throughout the school year. While plans aren’t set in stone yet, possible future events include doing a school cleanup and taking part in “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF,” where kids collect money for UNICEF on Halloween. The fundraiser for Project Night Night also will be held again, Granbery said.

For Granbery, the goal is to make volunteering something that Gardner Bullis students grow up with and will continue throughout their lives. She said her own three young children have done community service projects and now enjoy volunteering.

“The idea of donating and giving time and giving back is part of what they talk about,” Granbery said. “And so to me, that’s a win.”

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