Students in kindergarten through second grade at West Hartford’s Morley School made their annual delivery of non-perishables to restock the food pantry at Town Hall – for the 25th year in a row.
By Ronni Newton
Morley Elementary School’s legacy of giving back reached quarter-century status Tuesday morning as a parade of smiling students – kindergarteners through second-graders – made the 1.22-mile trek from their school to Town Hall, delivering wagons overflowing with non-perishables for the West Hartford Food Pantry.
“This year is extra special because it’s the 25th anniversary. This has been happening for 25 years – can you believe that?” Principal Ryan Cleary said of the annual Red Wagon Food Drive. “What that says to me is legacy – you’re helping to leave behind an impression of Morley School for the whole community.”
In all, there were 52 wagons, and approximately 2,500 food items transported to Town Hall. The food items couldn’t all fit in the number of available wagons, so one of the parent volunteers drove some items over in her car.
When they reached Town Hall, escorted by members of the West Hartford Police and West Hartford Fire Department, the students were met by town and school officials – including Superintendent Tom Moore, Assistant Superintendent Paul Vicinus, Director of Diversity Enhancement Roszena Haskins, Executive Director of Human Resources Rick Ledwith, Mayor Shari Cantor, and others – who helped unload wagons and pack items into boxes to be brought into the Food Pantry.
“I want to say thank you to each and every one of you because you did a fabulous job,” said Food Pantry Coordinator Nancy Stockman, who was presented with a certificate as the students gathered in front of Town Hall. “Kindness is contagious,” she said.
Morley teachers Jennifer LaForte and Mary Beth Hixson coordinated this year’s Red Wagon Food Drive.
“This is one of my favorite mornings all year,” Cantor, whose four sons all attended Morley, told the students. “I want to thank you for all the effort you put into helping other people … people that are just like you.
“I’m so proud of the Morley community for being a leader in how much you give of your time,” Cantor said, urging the students to remember how good they feel about giving and thanking them as well as the teachers, parents, and police and fire department members who all helped out.
Cleary said what the students do is extraordinary, and will create longtime memories.
“This memory, of doing the Red Wagon Food Drive, is one that you are probably going to remember a little bit longer, because … it really isn’t about us it’s about other people,” Cleary said.
They are extra special memories because the students are using so many of their special Morley character traits, like caring, kindness, fairness, responsibility, and citizenship.
Cleary also read a message from Dawn O’Connor, the former Morley second-grade teacher who started the Red Wagon Food Drive with her students in 1995. O’Connor retired in 2016 and lives in Florida, but students now carry a banner that reads “O’Connor Community Service Projects” for the Red Wagon Food Drive as well as the Backpack Brigade in the spring.
O’Connor sent a message to the students about giving back, which Cleary read aloud: “You always have something to give someone less fortunate than yourself: your time, a skill, helping with something, food, clothing, toys, friendship, kindness. And you should try to do it every day. It doesn’t have to be a big event like a Red Wagon walk. It could be donating your toys to a shelter or bringing in your neighbor’s recycling bins just because it’s something nice to do.”
Morley’s motto is “character builds community,” Cleary said, and it’s because all of the little things the students do every day.
“One of my favorite things about this is the authenticity of this event,” Cleary told We-Ha.com as the students lined up for the walk back to Morley.
“So many times with food drives kids bring the food to school, which is excellent, but this is an extra step for them to be able to take it and bring it all the way to Town Hall, and put it in the bins, and see where it goes into the Food Pantry. And that’s one of the reasons why I think this event really sticks with the kids.”
This year’s Red Wagon Food Drive took place a week or two earlier than usual, and Stockman said that was really helpful, and it’s a great way to kick off the restocking of the pantry for the season ahead.
The non-perishables dropped off Tuesday, Stockman said, were “really useful items. It looked like we were getting a lot of staple items like peanut butter, cereal, and baked beans, and pasta.”
The need continues to grow, Stockman said. Last year, approximately 7,000 bags of food were distributed to West Hartford families in need.
The following items continue to be critical needs on the Food Pantry shelves: canned fruit, applesauce, tuna, pasta and pasta sauce, rice (brown or white), baked beans, cold cereal, canned spaghetti, soups (small can size), canned vegetables, canned meats (spam, ham, chicken), peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese, hamburger helper, bottles or cans of juice, coffee, and tea.
Food donations can be dropped off in the Town Hall lobby at the Customer Service Desk, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. 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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