Students in kindergarten through second grade at West Hartford’s Morley School made the 23rd annual delivery of non-perishables to restock the food pantry at Town Hall.
By Ronni Newton
A parade of smiling students, pulling and pushing wagons full of donated food, made their annual trek from Morley School to West Hartford Town Hall on Wednesday, smiling despite the chilly weather because they already know how great it feels to give back, and how valuable their donations are to the community.
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 – make the 1.22-mile trek from the school to Town Hall pulling red (and some blue ones as well) wagons full of non-perishables.
There were 130 students and 60 wagons that made the trek this year, accompanied by their teachers and about 50 parents, Morley Principal Ryan Cleary said.
Until she retired at the end of last school year, 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.
This year the event was coordinated by all of the kindergarten through second grade teachers this year, Cleary said, with first grade teacher Barbara Florez and second grade teacher Sue Staffaroni taking the lead in organization.
“We’re taking lots of pictures to send to [O’Connor],” Cleary said.
Matt Downey, a new first grade teacher at Morley this year, said he was very excited about his first red wagon food drive, adding that he watched YouTube videos of past events so that he would know what to expect.
The donations were still pouring in as of Wednesday morning, and Cleary said that a bunch of extra wagons had shown up that morning.
The wagons were jam-packed with non-perishable food items, donated by Morley students and families and others in the community. A certificate, presented to Food Pantry Coordinator Nancy Stockman by students Madison and James, said that the 60 wagons were filled with approximately 2,000 food items.
Representatives from Social Services, West Hartford Public Schools, 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.
Once the wagons were emptied, Cleary spoke to the students, telling them just some of the reasons why he thinks the Red Wagon Food Drive is so important, and such a major part of Morley as a community school.
“We are starting to work our way into the season of giving,” Clearly said. When I think about giving there are two words that start with ‘g’ that come to mind. The first one is generosity and the second one is gratitude,” and the event is a lesson in both.
“We do this so we can help out people who need some food, and we can do that because of the generosity of all of you, and in you being you generous that’s where you learn about gratitude,” Cleary said.
“What you’ve done today is really special,” Cleary told the students. “You’ve filled those empty cupboards and empty cabinets and empty pantries for people who really need it, and I could not be prouder of every student sitting in front of me.”
Stockman also thanked the students and told them to thank the students in other grades when they get back to school. “Giving is kindness and kindness is contagious,” Stockman told the students.
Mayor Shari Cantor’s four sons are attended Morley. She said she knows what a community event this is and her oldest son, who is now 29, participated in the first Morley Red Wagon Food Drive.
“I want you to remember how good you feel today,” Cantor said. “I want to thank you so much for what you’ve done from the Morley community to the greater West Hartford community. I want you to always think of people who have less than you do … on every day.”
“West Hartford is an incredibly generous community,” Stockman told We-Ha.com after the event, and the Morley donation has a huge impact. Right now there’s a significant need for donations to the Food Pantry, she said. Last year more than 6,000 bags of food were given out to residents, and this year the need is greater.
“Staple items” are currently needed the most, including peanut butter, brown or white rice, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans. Stockman said those items are given out to clients every day.
Other items that are needed include canned spaghetti, canned soups (small size), canned vegetables, small canned meats (spam, ham, chicken), tuna, canned fruit, jelly, pasta, spaghetti sauce (not extra large), tuna and hamburger helper, mixes, 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.
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