Arbutus Middle students deliver food to Southwest Emergency Services

Dozens of Arbutus Middle School students streamed from the cafeteria to the front of the building on Shelbourne Road, bringing box after box of nonperishable foods to the school bus parked out front.

By the time they loaded the last food items on Nov. 17, the students had filled half of the bus.

That left little space for Erica Aaron, the teacher adviser for the student council, and six student council members, Kevin Mongold, Annie Parven, Shawn Reed, Gavin Reeder, Alex Schultz, and Rida Younis, to sit as they accompanied the donation to Southwest Emergency Services.

Luckily, they didn't have to travel far, as the SWES headquarters on the campus of Arbutus United Methodist Church is less than a third of a mile away from the school.

Younis, a sixth-grader from Arbutus, barked out orders and hardly stopped moving as she unloaded the bus at SWES.

"I enjoyed a lot about today because I felt like I just helped a lot of people," said Younis, who donated vegetarian soup, among other items, to the collection. "It's really sad that people have to go (hungry) in such a developed country."

Loading the bus marked the conclusion of a two-month food drive by the school's student council which partnered with Coldwell Banker and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to collect about 3,500 items.

"It was a lot of items. The core today was Arbutus Middle School," said Lori Hardesty, a coordinator of service learning programs at UMBC. "They did a lot of hard work."

SWES director Betty Okonski said she had contacted local schools in September about having food drives because many of her shelves at the facility at 1201 Maple Ave. were bare.

When they arrived last week, Okonski showed the students around, and the students listened attentively.

"It was just awesome what they did," Okonski said. "Maybe some of them will come in here and volunteer. I hope they will."

Thursday morning, the students at the school, which draws evenly from the Catonsville and Arbutus areas, smiled often as they moved heavy boxes loaded with dozens of cans.

"It's pretty cool," said Schultz, a sixth-grader from Catonsville, who brought in cake mix and canned vegetables. "I just like helping the people. I think it's really fun."

Kevin Mongold, an eighth-grader from Arbutus, said he enjoyed the event because "It shows our stuff and other people's stuff can go to people who need it."

Aaron, a science teacher at Arbutus Middle for nine years, said the students collected more food than in any other year since she has been there, except one. That was in 2004, the students collected a similar amount of food, she noted.

Arbutus Middle typically has two food drives, one in the fall and the other in spring, Aaron said.

Donations had slipped in recent years, Aaron said, so they presented the students with a challenge to, "stuff a bus."

"Times are tough for everybody. They can't really donate their own food," Aaron said . "This year, we did really well. I think having the whole stuff the bus concept helped a lot."

Coldwell Banker presented the students with another incentive. The homeroom in each grade that collected the most food would receive lunch from Subway.

Sally Griffin, branch vice-president of the Coldwell Banker office on Frederick Road in Catonsville, stressed that the students had done much of the work.

"We advertised it for Arbutus Middle and put it on our website and our Facebook page," Griffin said. "We were just a partner to them. They did a bulk of the collecting."

Aaron made sure the students knew that the drive had more at stake than a free lunch.

"I tried to make it known in our announcements every morning that it's more than a competition," Aaron said. "We want them to develop an empathetic attitude and (to know) that some of the people getting the food could be their friends."

While lunch is a nice treat, the half-dozen students unloading the bus at SWES seemed to have heeded Aaron's message .

"(It's important) because it's around Thanksgiving," said Reed, a sixth-grader from Relay. "People can have Thanksgiving dinners."

Reeder said he was surprised how much the school raised.

"It's helping people get food," said the seventh-grader from Arbutus. "It's getting colder. These warm foods could help keep their insides warm."

"It's time for winter and people can't get out that much because they don't have cars," said Annie Parven, another seventh-grader, as she took a break from lifting boxes that seemed to weigh as much as she did.

"If they need food, they can walk up here and get food," she added.

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