Our school is holding a food drive to benefit KirkCare, an organization that helps families in our school district. Like any other food drive, kids are invited to bring cans and boxes of non-perishable food items to donate to the cause. Here’s a little peek into how a conversation about the food drive went in our classroom on Friday.
First, a little bit of a back story. Last week, a friend in our class decided to donate money for the drive instead of food (thanks, J!), and so he gave me $31. I held on to it for a few days, and then decided I wanted him (and a whole lot of other kids–including my son) to actually see what that $31 could get at the grocery store, so I asked J if he would mind if I went shopping with the money he gave. He was totally fine with it, and so I took my 4YO son, Riley, to the store with me that evening. I wanted to show him what we were doing at school, and teach a lesson about hungry kids and helping others.
I explained to Riley (at a 4YO level, of course) how there are some kids in the world, and in our neighborhood even, who don’t have food to eat when they need it. Their mommies and daddies can’t just go to the fridge or the pantry when they ask for something and give it to them. Sometimes they have to go to bed with hungry bellies because there just isn’t anything to eat. Irony or not, this whole conversation took place right at his dinner time, so I was able to connect how lucky he was that I could get his dinner ready for him at that time; I shared how much it would hurt me to have to tell him, “I’m sorry, baby, there’s no dinner tonight.” 😦
So off we went to the store, with the purpose of getting as much as we could with our $31 to help fill the box at school for the food drive. He was really eager to find things that he knew other kids would like, and to be able to help someone else. I was really proud of how he kept talking about what he was doing, and was excited to be a part of it. We talk a lot about “filling buckets” in our family and he liked that he was filling way more than 1 person’s bucket with this shopping trip. So at the end of our time, we had a cart full of food and a lot of people in our hearts who we were excited to feed. I had Riley guess how many items we’d purchased, and he was right–61! He said, “We can fill 61 people’s buckets, Mommy!” (More on filling buckets in another post if you’re not sure what that means. In short, it’s about being kind and respectful to others and making them feel good. See the link I added for the book the whole thing is based on.)
Here’s what our class put in the box on Friday, between the money J gave me and some other things Riley, R, K and I donated. Amazing, what a few people can do in one day, isn’t it?
So fast forward to Friday at school in my class. Our librarian had shared several ideas for books and videos to show that connected with the idea of homelessness in our country, with hopes that our kids would understand more about why they should give to the food drive, and who they could be helping in the process. We started with a conversation trying to answer these questions: Who will this food drive benefit? If you’ve already given, why did you choose to? If you haven’t, why not? This got us started, but for the most part the answers were really generic; many just knew that it was supposed to help people that needed it, and they had donated just because they did. Didn’t seem like there was any real reason–it’s just what you’re supposed to do when your school is doing a food drive.
The next question I asked was related to homelessness. I wanted to get an idea about where they were with who is homeless, why they might be, etc. Most ideas that were shared put images in our heads of grown-ups who live in the inner city, who have a cup or something in their hand to collect money.
Next, we watched a Reading Rainbow video that focused on homelessness. The book featured in it was Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting. We had already read this book, but our focus had been on practicing inferring, rather than the topic of the story. It’s a story about a little boy and his dad who live in an airport because they can’t afford to find a place to live. The boy in the story tells all about how they make it work and how they try to be invisible. Listening to the story this way–hearing a kid’s voice instead of mine–and thinking of it through the lens of the food drive and helping the less fortunate made many of my kiddos think of the story in a very different way. The same story–but under different circumstances–was more meaningful.
Besides just the story, this episode featured the story of the Castro family. The children in the family talked about how they had lost their house to a fire, and after their father had lost his job, they couldn’t find anywhere that they could afford to live. For two weeks, the family lived in their car. That’s 6 people living in a small sedan. For two weeks. They shared about how their mom couldn’t buy milk for the little sisters in the family, and how they had to go to bed hungry and crying. The son (who looked like he was probably the same age as my kiddos) talked a lot about being scared and having to move to a shelter. In the end, the family was able to find some affordable housing.
When we finished the video, we debriefed. Many kiddos were really touched by what they had seen. The feel in the room was a somber one, and there were real tears in some eyes. I had them talk with their partner about their initial thoughts, and then we shared out together. I was really impressed by how touched so many of them were. They acknowledged that our original idea about homelessness was wrong. L mentioned that the families in the stories were homeless because of something they couldn’t control, like a fire or natural disaster. E noted that the stories were more about hunger than homelessness, and that you could have a home and still not have enough food to eat. C and K were really touched by how appreciative the kids in the stories were for the little bit that they had (the boy in the Castro family talked about how he had done flips over the place their family finally found to rent). We just talk about all the things we want, and how we want more and more. They thought that many of us take lots of things for granted.
While I didn’t intend to, I found myself in tears many times during this conversation. It just got to me, imagining having to tell my babies that I couldn’t afford to feed them–especially the story about the girl’s little sisters. I know some of my students felt uncomfortable, but I could tell that many of them just realized it as an honest reaction to someone else’s suffering.
We talked for a long while about our thoughts, and I was really touched by the compassion in all of their voices. I could tell that they didn’t see the lesson as a guilt trip, but rather as a challenge. They left the carpet ready to take on the world, wanting to make sure that there were no more hungry bellies at bedtime. They want to do what they can to help others. Because now so many of them understand that when we talk about helping “people in need,” we’re talking about kids who might be their age, who might be in their classroom–kids in their neighborhood and their school. For many, this was a big surprise; they think it happens to people far away that they’ll never meet.
So I’m excited to see what this means for our Food Drive box on Monday. I’m even more excited to see what it means for their willingness to share even far beyond Monday. I hope that the conversation we had on Friday stays with them for a while and spurs them on for further action. We’re going to talk next Friday about a service-learning project that our class can take on starting in January, and I’ll be interested to see what their ideas may be. No matter what they come up with, I know they’ll do great things to affect our community.