By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD — There are times when tears of happiness are shed by both givers and receivers of food items used to make up a festive Thanksgiving holiday meal.
That was evident during the annual holiday food drive at South Kitsap’s Sedgwick Middle School, in which families in need were provided with an array of food items to make a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal.
“Yes, we’ve had tears of joy. The people are amazed at how generous others can be,” said Jennifer Richardson, a secretary in the school’s counseling office who has participated in gathering items for the school’s food drive over the past five years.
Richardson said that those handing out the meals to families often get emotional during the yearly “Holiday Help” effort because they know the food is not only helping out a student in need but an entire family.
This year, 30 families of Sedgwick students received Thanksgiving meals. Over half of the school’s 700 students lent a hand with “Holiday Help,” the middle school’s biggest charity event of the year, the secretary noted.
“I wanted to participate because I think this has an impact on the community,” student body president Aisha Sorter said.
“I feel we should all have a chance under any circumstances, no matter if you cannot afford the food, to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family,” the eighth-grader said.
Sorter helped gather food and also encouraged younger students to donate.
Fellow eighth-grader and student treasurer Kai Zhong said she is particularly aware of the need to help others at Thanksgiving. The family of one of her parents had a tough time getting holiday meals while growing up.
“I wanted to be part of the food drive because it’s important for people who can’t afford food to get it so they can enjoy Thanksgiving. It just makes me feel good that we are putting food on someone’s table,” Zhong said. The student also donated 20 cans of food to the campaign.
Ellie Wright, another eighth-grader, also encouraged classmates in the hallways and at lunch to support the school’s food drive.
Wright, who is the associated student body’s media and marketing coordinator, said, “It makes me feel like I’m helping people who need a little bit of help. I love helping people. Volunteering is something I want to do.”The recipients do the cooking. Families receiving Thanksgiving meal items to prepare were provided a turkey, stuffing, yams, canned corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, sparkling cider, whipping cream and a pie. Households were also given two baking pans and a roasting pan in order to cook the holiday meal.
“We leave that part to them because different people like to cook their food in different ways,” Richardson said. “The families are so surprised at the amount of generosity. They are shocked that people in the community care.”
School counselors assisted in coming up with a list of families to receive the meals. The names of families benefitting from the food drive are kept confidential. Each one is identified by a designated number.
“By this time of year, we usually know if there is a family in some kind of need,” Richardson said. “The counselors are the ones that make the connections with families by calling them, saying, ‘Hey, we are offering this. Do you need help this year?’”
Christmas food and gift drive
Sedgwick’s generosity doesn’t end on Thanksgiving. The school also conducts another drive for Christmas. Donations are collected so families in need will receive a full holiday meal and Christmas gifts for the children.
“With Christmas, we try to a get a couple of gifts for the children — like a present that meets a need and another one that covers a want,” she explained. “Maybe a child needs a new backpack and will want $20 to go out to buy a game.”
The school was fortunate to have an anonymous donor fund 34 of the Christmas meals. The benefactor made the same commitment last year, she said.
Community members not associated with the school can also contribute to the Christmas drive. Money, food and gift contributions can be made by visiting the school’s website: johnsedgwick.skschools.org.