This is the 20th year that Morley Elementary School has held the food drive, and this year approximately 3,500 non-perishables were delivered to the West Hartford Food Pantry.
By Ronni Newton
Hundreds of Morley Elementary Schools students, staff, and parent helpers made the 1.22-mile trek from the school to West Hartford Town Hall Wednesday morning, pulling 70 wagons loaded with food items to stock the shelves of the West Hartford Food Pantry.
“Families in our community have just been pouring in with donations over the past few weeks,” said Principal Ryan Cleary. This is Cleary’s first “Red Wagon Food Drive” in his role as principal, but he was involved for several years as Morley’s curriculum specialist.
“Every year it gets better and better. It’s truly larger than just Morley, but this is where it starts,” Cleary said. Many of the wagons used are donated by Morley alumni, and people throughout West Hartford contribute non-perishables, he said.
Cleary said he was a bit worried about the weather postponing the event, which has happened in two of the past three years. “We’ve been wathcing the weather like a hawk,” he said, and it turned out to be clear and mild.
Excitement has been building at Morley for weeks, Cleary said, and it’s been featured on the morning announcements each day. “The kids are so happy to give,” he said. The food drive allows the students to use all of the six character traits – respect, citizenship, fairness, caring, responsibility, and kindness – that Morley emphasizes.
There was so much food donated this year that it didn’t fit in the available wagons, and some was brought over by truck.
“They brought some food over early because it didn’t all fit in the wagons. This will go a long way helping those who need it,” said Suzanne Oslander of West Hartford’s Department of Human and Leisure Services, which oversees the pantry.
Morley teacher Dawn O’Connor, who organizes the food drive as well as Morley’s annual “Backpack Brigade,” said that approximately 3,500 items were donated this year.
“It’s pretty amazing that we’ve done this for 20 years,” said O’Connor, who has led the food drive since the beginning. She said that the event began in 1994 as a donation of seven Thanksgiving baskets. “And then we got the idea that we could do more,” she said. Since Morley is within walking distance to Town Hall they decided to use wagons, and got the West Hartford Police and Fire Departments involved. “The rest is history,” O’Connor said.
“This is one of two big school community service projects. I think this is a really important way to get the kids involved in the community, and it’s very dear to my heart,” O’Connor said. She said that now the Morley kids even have birthday parties where they ask guests to bring food donations.
West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka said that getting to meet with and thank the Morley students for their donation is “one of the nicest things I get to do.”
“The first day I became mayor, the first thing I got to do was greet the red wagon caravan. That was 10 years ago,” he said.
Food Pantry coordinator Amanda Moffo, who officially accepted the donation from the Morley community, told the students that their donation is “one of the biggest and most impressive acts of kindness we see here.”
According to the Town of West Hartford, the Food Pantry currently needs: boxed cereals (small or average, not extra-large), canned spaghetti, canned soups (small size), canned vegetables, canned beans of all types, small canned meats (spam, ham, chicken), tuna, canned fruit, peanut butter, jelly, pasta, spaghetti sauce (not extra-large), macaroni and cheese, tuna and hamburger helper, rice (brown or white), 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, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Financial contributions are also accepted, and may be sent to Town That Cares Food Pantry, 50 South Main Street, West Hartford, CT 06107.
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