Students in kindergarten through second grade at West Hartford’s Morley School made the 24th annual delivery of non-perishables to restock the food pantry at Town Hall.
By Ronni Newton
Wednesday’s spectacular fall weather was the perfect backdrop for the parade of smiling students who trekked from Morley School to Town Hall, for the 24th year in a row pushing and pulling their wagons full of donated food for the West Hartford Food Pantry.
The mood of the day – just like the weather – was uplifting, as one of the town’s most iconic annual displays of generosity will help ensure that needy West Hartford families have enough food for their basic needs as well as holiday celebrations.
Every year since 1995, Morley’s kindergartners, first-graders, and second-graders – accompanied by their teachers, administrators, and many parents, and escorted by the West Hartford Police and Fire Departments – walk from the school at the intersection of Fern Street and Bretton Road to Town Hall pulling red (and some blue ones as well) wagons full of non-perishables. The trek is usually 1.22 miles, but this year was likely a bit farther, and hillier, as the group climbed up Fern Street to North Main and then headed south to Town Hall.
“We have 56 wagons all jam-packed with food,” Morley Principal Ryan Cleary said as he walked down South Main Street with the students. Cleary said that there were about the same number of wagons as usual, but so much food had been donated that it wouldn’t all fit, and several car loads were going to be brought to Town Hall later in the day.
“There’s a lot of generosity this year, and we are very grateful,” Cleary said.
When the students arrived at Town Hall, representatives from Social Services, West Hartford Public Schools, Mayor Shari Cantor, and other town leaders helped unload the wagons into boxes on carts so they could be brought inside the building where volunteers will later place the donations on the pantry shelves.
Morley students Carter and Sophie presented Food Pantry Coordinator Nancy Stockman with a certificate, after they announced: “Morley School K-2 kids presents more than 50 wagons filled with more than 3,000 food items to the West Hartford Food Pantry on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.”
Stockman gratefully accepted the donation, and told the students to please thank the rest of the Morley community when the return to school.
“Look around you and what do you see?” Stockman said. “You’re surrounded by kindness, and kindness is contagious, and so keep it going because you guys are doing a wonderful job for the community.”
Cantor, whose four sons all attended Morley and participated in the Red Wagon Food Drive, said that it’s efforts like this that instill a lifetime of giving back to the community. She told the students that they will remember that feeling they had as they brought the donations to Town Hall.
“It is kindness, it is what makes our world a better, better place,” Cantor said. “I know you will grow up and understand that importance of giving back and service.”
Cleary told the students that the timing of the Red Wagon Food Drive is great because November is all about giving. “But the timing of this event is also great because the world can always use examples of kindness, and that’s what you showed everyone this morning.” The walk to Town Hall was a very visible example of kindness, Cleary said, including to all of those who were driving and had to stop to let the parade of wagons go by.
“Families in town will have food on their table because of you,” Cleary said.
Until she retired in 2016, second grade teacher Dawn O’Connor had always led the Red Wagon Food Drive as well as Morley’s Backpack Brigade – which takes place in the spring and includes donations of backpacks and financial support that West Hartford Social Services provides to needy students at the start of the school year. The students now carry a banner that reads “O’Connor Community Service Projects.”
First grade teacher Barbara Flores and second grade teacher Sue Staffaroni took the lead in organizing the Red Wagon Food Drive this year. Both have assisted with the drive for at least 20 years, and said they are proud to carry on the tradition started by O’Connor.
“It went amazingly well,” said Staffaroni. “This was more food than we have had in a long time.”
Flores said it’s always great to see the community comes together. “I hope it continues for many, many years.”
Stockman told We-Ha.com after the event that the Morley Red Wagon Food Drive has a tremendous impact on the Food Pantry.
“Last year we gave out 6,300 bags of food,” Stockman said. “Our numbers are up, our need is increasing.” The need has been met thanks to the generosity of schools as well as faith communities, businesses, and other residents.
“West Hartford is a kind, responsive community. We rely on everyone to help and they do,” Stockman said.
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 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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