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Youngsters donate food to homeless Benfield students strive to make a difference


Benfield Elementary School added a fourth "R" to its curriculum of readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic yesterday. Relief.

About 375 students at the Severna Park school made bag lunches for the homeless and donated them to Helping Hand Inc. in Annapolis.

"This is important," said third-grader Rory Leahy, 8, as he loaded a box of lunches onto a van. "A lot of people die [of starvation]."

The project was part of Make a Difference Week, a nationwide effort to help those in need.

According to the Anne Arundel Department of Social Services, the county served almost 2,000 homeless people in 1994. The state served more than 45,000 homeless people last year, records show.

Yesterday, the Benfield students filled two vans with about 370 homemade lunches, many of them consisting of sandwiches, chips and cookies. The children also gave toiletries.

The food was taken to Helping Hand, where more than 200 lunches were distributed to grateful recipients, said Henry Jones, executive director of the Annapolis-based shelter and soup kitchen.

"It's an excellent effort," Mr. Jones said. "It's a beautiful idea for kids wanting to do this for the needy and homeless people."

Mr. Jones said the gift was appreciated because the soup kitchen is forced to close if it has no food to distribute.

"We find that people give only during Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said. "By the school giving during the non-holiday season, it keeps the soup kitchen open."

The children said the homeless should not be ignored.

"Those people are just like us," said fifth-grader Kelly Benefiel, 10, who packed a ham and turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, fruit, soap and shampoo in one bag. "They should have the same things we have. They're important, too."

The idea for the lunches originated last month during a meeting of the school's Human Relations Committee, said Cisco Nochera, an early-childhood-intervention teacher and chairman of the committee of students and faculty members.

Since the end of September, the 14 student members of the committee had reminded their classmates to donate lunches. They used daily announcements on the school's public address system to deliver their message. They distributed fliers and talked to each class with Principal Teresa Sacchetti, said Mr. Nochera.

"The kids were so enthusiastic about this," he said. "I was a little concerned with just having a one-day event and having everything show up at once. But everything was here, and the children made it all possible."

Ellen Hunt, whose 3-year-old son, Connor, is in Mr. Nochera's class, helped take the lunches to Helping Hand.

"It's good to teach the kids that there are other people who are less fortunate then themselves and that we can make a difference," she said.

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