Terra Verde Discovery students raising funds to fight child hunger

Young workers take a break Jan. 8 from greeting guests, serving as a cashiers and bussing tables at Benvenuti’s Ristorante. Students from Terra Verde Discovery School teamed up with the restaurant to raise donations for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s Food for Kids program in Cleveland County, offering guests a meal in return for a $10 donation at Benvenuti’s in Norman.

Terra Verde Discovery School students are at it again this school year as they continue to raise money for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma in an effort to fight child hunger.

Fifth-graders will greet, serve, bus tables and act as cashiers from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at Benvenuti’s, 105 W. Main St. For a minimum donation of $10, residents can feast on a buffet of pasta, pizza and salad. All proceeds go to the Regional Food Bank.

Terra Verde students in grades second through fifth have been raising money for the food bank since December 2013. To date, they have raised $22,230.56, headmaster Dr. Eric Snyder said. Today will mark the 10th time students have raised money, and three more events are scheduled throughout the school year.

Founders of the school, Shelly and Pete Wilson, have been supportive of the Regional Food Bank, said director Lindsey Berryhill, but it has meaning to students and staff, as well.

“Initially (the Wilsons) had read an article on children going hungry in Norman and so it’s been kind of a focus to end child hunger in Norman, in addition to the state of Oklahoma,” Snyder said. “So most of the proceeds from these funds that are raised go to the Food for Kids Backpack Program.”

Through the backpack program, children receive a backpack full of kid-friendly, non-perishable and nutritions food on Fridays to sustain them over weekends and school holidays, according to Regional Food Bank.

“For us, many of us are former public school teachers and we had students in our classes who benefited from that. So when we came here, we wanted to continue to support those kids from those classrooms that we were leaving. This was a tangible way to do that,” Berryhill said.

Snyder said it was also important for their students.

“When we talk about having this ethics curriculum, the compassion and empathy they develop and their understanding of it is important; and that they’re not facing these issues on any given weekend,” he said.

Fifth-grade teacher Maureen Dolan asked her class who was excited to go to Benvenuti’s, and everyone’s hand shot up into the air. Behind the excitement of getting to play “restaurant” for a day, the children understood how they were helping and the issues involving child hunger.

“Why do you think those children don’t have food at home?” Dolan said to her class Tuesday morning.

Many students, like Kylie, answered that it’s because parents have a hard time finding a job or don’t make as much money as they need to support their family. Or maybe, Julia said, their parents aren’t home a lot because they’re out working, so they don’t have much food at home.

Dolan talked to the class about how many children go home and there’s not an adult present.

“They may have an adult who’s sick. They may have an adult who’s just not present in their lives in a way that a mom or dad should be,” she said. “I used to go to school with somebody and her father was just really sick all the time. It took up most of the time and money because mom had to work.”

Once someone in the family becomes sick, that also can cause things to begin to spiral, as well.

“Maybe you’re a single parent and your child’s sick, you have to be off work, what happens if you’re off work?” Dolan said.

The class responded with answers like, “You don’t get money” and “You get fired.” Dolan presented another situation involving the family car breaking down and how much that can affect a family that’s just getting by.

“See how very quickly you can go from being OK and keeping your family together to being really in bad shape? And, suddenly, you’re that child who needs to get food from the backpack program,” she said.

While some students talked about the possibility of calling someone if the car breaks down, it started another discussion about how some people don’t have the support system a lot of their families may have.

With more than 50 percent of children in the Norman area qualifying for free and reduced lunches, Dolan said it’s a scary statistic. In 10 or 20 years from now, she asked her students what this fundraiser will mean to them and if it will change them. She said she hopes it will.

“It’s not just learning about something that’s happening in another part of the world. We’re hoping that that changes who you are now, as a young person, but that stays with you as you grow into a young adult,” Dolan said. “What will you do with that knowledge, that understanding, that information? What will you do with that when you get older?”

“Maybe you’ll have more capability to help even more people,” Julia said.

Dolan said that is what it is all about. Educators are sewing a seed in the hearts of students that they hope will grow into something strong and make them caring, giving young people who will continue to give to others.

Fifth-grader Cole said as the school continues to grow — with a middle school currently planned — and they continue to do lots of fundraisers, next year they will have more kids and more people to help with the fundraiser.

“I really hope that it keeps expanding, and I think it’s really cool that we started when we were in kindergarten, but we kept doing it. Like we didn’t do it just once, we kept doing it, and I really hope that we keep doing it for the whole time that the school is here,” Julia said.

Future dates Terra Verde students will be at Benvenuti’s to raise more money for the food bank include Nov. 11, Jan. 13, and Feb. 10.

For more information, visit terraverdeschool.com and visit regionalfoodbank.org

Jessica Bruha

366-3540

jbruha@normantranscript.com

Follow me @JbruhaTNT

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