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Even a Pandemic Doesn’t Stop the Morley Red Wagon Food Drive

Morley kindergarten teacher Mari Beth Hixson, one of the organizers, loads donated food onto a cart. Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Now in its 26th year, Morley Elementary School found a way to hold the annual Red Wagon Food Drive in a COVID-safe way.

Five blue cars made the delivery Wednesday, but kept the Morley Red Wagon Food Drive tradition going for 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

The Morley Red Wagon Food Drive did not fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic – it just happened a bit differently this year, with bags of food arriving by a fleet of five blue cars rather than in dozens of red wagons.

More than 130 tightly-packed bags of food were delivered to the Food Pantry by the Morley community on Wednesday, and organizers estimated they contained a total of at least 1,500 items.

West Hartford’s elementary schools returned to full in-person mode several weeks ago, but classes have remained in cohorts and it would have been too difficult to safely socially distance while having all of K-2 students make the 1.22-mile walk to Town Hall together, pulling their wagons full of donated non-perishables for the West Hartford Food Pantry. So organizers found a slightly modified way to keep the tradition, now in its 26th year, alive.

The plan came together over the past few weeks, kindergarten teacher and event organizer Mari Beth Hixson said, and the K-2 kids from Morley started collecting food.

The wagons made their appearance, with families encouraged to use them to transport their donations to the school.

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Courtesy of Jennifer La Forte

Hixson used a red wagon to bring the a few of the bags to the cars Wednesday afternoon before she and co-organizer, second grade teacher Jen LaForte, Principal Ryan Cleary, and the other K-2 teachers caravanned to Town Hall.

“Despite the conditions that the pandemic has created, Morley School’s focus on community has not shifted, in fact, it has become more important than ever,” Cleary said.

“Over the last several months we have seen community members supporting each other in many different ways, and those efforts have inspired us to continue a long standing tradition here at Morley, the Red Wagon Food Drive. Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances, students are not able to walk the food to town hall as they have in the past, but the lessons on community, interdependence, and helping neighbors remain part of our practice,” said Cleary.

Morley Principal Ryan Cleary (left) and first grade teacher Matt Downey deliver donations to Town Hall. Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The students learned about community service as they collected food items for residents in need – and Cleary said many kept the spirit of the event alive by bringing the donations to the school in red wagons.

Despite – or maybe because of – the upheaval of many traditional aspects of the school year, the families were enthusiastic when they learned there would be a version of the Red Wagon Food Drive.

Families were asked to collect items the Food Pantry has indicated it needs the most: peanut butter, jelly, cold cereal, canned fruit and applesauce, canned tuna, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, rice, spaghetti, pasta sauce, canned pasta, soup, canned vegetables, and baking mixes.

About 20% of elementary school students in the Morley district are enrolled in the Remote Learning Experience this year, and LaForte said it was great to get the volume of donations they did.

“We tried to make it exciting to collect the food,” Hixson said, promoting it during K-2 meetings – which are held virtually.

“Even though we’re apart we’re together,” Hixson said.

West Hartford Volunteer Coordinator Barb Roberts helps load the donations onto a cart. Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Food Pantry Coordinator Nancy Stockman was extremely thankful for the donation.

“We were hopeful that the Red Wagon tradition would continue” for its 26th year, she said. “We are very grateful that Morley was able to continue the tradition to help the community, and we also know that it brings so much joy. … We’re very grateful to everyone in the community for helping out in this very challenging time.”

There has been a significant increase in need, Stockman said, and West Hartford will continue to operate the Food Pantry and distribute bags of food to families in need from a tent in front of Town Hall on Tuesdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m., Wednesdays from 9-11 a.m., and Fridays from 10 a.m.-noon.

“I am very thankful for our parents who continue to support their children’s learning, this event, and the greater West Hartford community. Also, I am very appreciative of the food pantry’s help and support, and the work of Mari Beth Hixson and Jen LaForte, the Morley teachers who coordinate this event,” Cleary said. “Lastly, it is a coincidence that we are delivering the food on Veteran’s Day, but I think that it is very appropriate. Given the sacrifice and bravery our veterans have displayed to protect our community, it only seems fitting to honor their service by culminating a community event today.”

Volunteers help bring the donations to the Food Pantry. Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Anyone who would like to donate to the Food Pantry can drop off items at the same time as the pantry is open for distribution. Both West Hartford Stop & Shop stores and Whole Foods on Raymond Road also have collection bins.

For an up-to-date list of what is needed, visit the Food Pantry webpage.

Financial contributions are also very much appreciated and may be sent to: Town That Cares Food Pantry, 50 South Main St., Room 306, West Hartford, CT 06107. Donations can also be made online by clicking here.

For more information on donating food or how you can help, contact Nancy Stockman at [email protected] or 860-561-7569.

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Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Courtesy of Jennifer La Forte

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Courtesy of Jennifer La Forte

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Courtesy of Mari Beth Hixson

Bags of non-perishables collected for the Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Courtesy of Mari Beth Hixson

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Morley Red Wagon Food Drive 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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