She was quiet, completed all of her work on time, and followed the rules daily. Occasionally she laughed when the other children were being silly but at playtime she kept to herself.
A pleasure to have in any classroom, teachers would love to duplicate her attitude towards learning.
One day during summer camp I realized that she never ate her entire lunch. She would eat the warm veggies on the side or maybe the peaches that came as a desert but the sandwich and prepackaged foods she’d take off her tray and leave to the side. I had seen her do this often but this day I watched her closely. Her tray was always empty when she dumped it in the trash so what did she do with the food? No wrappers were there, just the tray and empty containers from the hot foods she ate.
The next day I paid even closer attention as she took the food again off the tray. She looked around the room when it was time for her table to dump their trash. She quickly went over to her cubby, opened her book bag, and put a sandwich and orange inside.
An entire week went by and I began to notice just how strategic this little young lady was.
She took the longest time collecting her things from her desk at the end of the day. With any papers she needed to take home was a pop tart or breakfast bar she had saved from the morning.
The teacher made it a point to offer the students the classroom leftovers. The girl would raise her hand with a number of other students and take whatever was there on the sink in the snack bowl. None of them were allowed to pick over food they knew they weren’t going to eat. Mrs. H reminded them often to not take it if they don’t want it. The children complied.
I approached Mrs. H. after she walked the third grade students to the front door for pickup. Have you noticed that lil C. always saves her food and takes it home? She nodded, said no words, but just nodded as if she was waiting to see my response.
The school had rules that breakfast and lunches not eaten were supposed to be returned to the cafeteria. Our parent committee had addressed this issue with food service workers two years prior. Daily trash bags full of lunches were being thrown away and children who were hungry, denied the opportunity to eat. (That’s another story which I will share later) For safety reason the school had made extra food available for kids to have seconds but whatever was left still needed to be sent back.
I shared with the teacher a brief reminder of how we fought to allow children to access extra food and for universal lunch. She relaxed and began to share with me how she knew which students needed food in her class. To make sure the other children weren’t aware of it she offered leftovers to everyone.
She explained that lil C. had a younger sister and she always takes food home for her as well. She also shared that every Friday the school announced a meeting called the backpack club an half an hour before school ends. I had heard this announcement but thought it to be a reading club.
No, it was a group of students that teachers identified who needed additional help with food. Weekly they were given a backpack full of food to take home that was donated by teachers and staff. Backpacks were used to camouflage the food so the students needs were kept confidential. The backpacks were returned on Monday morning to the office.
My heart was so pleased, I was also happy for the students.
To think, a third grader strategically looking out for her family. I was outdone. I never said anything else about it but in every classroom I assisted in I made a point to follow Mrs. H’s lead. I reminded students not to take food they knew they wouldn’t eat and offered them leftovers.
The next school year we began hosting monthly food drives and gave away food to anyone in the neighborhood. No questions asked. The school partnered with a fresh fruits and vegetables organization that brought prepackaged food cleaned and cut in individual bags both students and staff loved them. I often think about this little girl and how sweet she was even more so how strategic. It prompts me to never be wasteful and that others are in need.