by Larry Austin
The Grand Island Neighbors Foundation will distribute hundreds of pounds of food to Island families in need this holiday season.
Hank Kammerer of the Neighbors Foundation said Tuesday this year's annual Christmas undertaking brought in 4,500 pounds of food, making it a brighter holiday season for Island families temporarily struggling with hardship.
"We have 45 families that we're helping," Kammerer said Tuesday at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Whitehaven Road as several dozen volunteers sorted the canned goods and divided it up for delivery.
"This food is all collected by the elementary, middle, and high school kids in the last few weeks," he said. "So we're going to end up with something on the order of 100 pounds for each family."
Outside the Knights of Columbus Hall sat turkeys and hams, some donated, some purchased from Tops with monetary donations, Kammerer said.
The effort to sort the goods for distribution is an annual job for students from Grand Island High School, including members of DECA, the GIHS Student Council, Casey's Corner school store, and the Interact Club. The clubs supplied 28 students for manpower, according to business teacher Cheryl Chamberlain, advisor to DECA and the Casey's Corner school store.
The volunteer work by the students satisfies a service component of their particular club, "however, it's become something they look forward to," said Chamberlain.
President of DECA Mike Seaman called the effort "an opportunity to give back to people on Grand Island."
"We live on the Island, but we don't think there are people here that need stuff," he said. "We're kind of sheltered and don't see things, but there are actually people here in need, and it's just great to help them out during the holiday season."
"It shows what the holidays are all about, helping each other and giving back," added senior Katie Rustowicz.
Laura Briganti, a science teacher at Grand Island High School and the Interact advisor, said that though community service is a requirement, students in Interact, a community service group with the Rotary Club, are motivated more by serving others than serving themselves.
"Interact has a lot of kids who (volunteer) just because they want to. I think that's what's important. If kids get the opportunity, they'll want to do things for others," Briganti said. "It's wonderful to see that they genuinely want to do these types of things."
Volunteerism didn't begin and end with the sorting of goods with the Neighbors Foundation, either. Robert Simpson, advisor to the GIHS Student Council, said the group he advises recently raised $500 during "Think Pink" week to support Komen for the Cure and breast cancer research. This month, the council raised $100 in Tops gifts cards for families in need. The Student Council held a competition at the high school and recognized the classroom that brought in the most items for the food drive, he said, in keeping with the council's goals of raising school spirit, providing community service, and modeling high character.
"It's a big component of high school now because society is really changing, and it's important to still stress the need for good morals, good character," Simpson said of the trend in character education. "Especially in this day and age, people need to help other people."
Casey's Corner school store presented a check to the Neighbors Foundation Tuesday. Nicolette Corrao, president of Casey's Corner, said this was the second year that the "Something Sweet" campaign was conducted through the school store for the food drive. The campaign ran from Dec. 13 to 17. She explained that a $1 donation bought a decorated Christmas stocking filled with candy delivered to a sweetheart's homeroom. Stockings were delivered on Dec. 17 to students and faculty.
"We started it last year kind of as a way to generate recognition of those less fortunate at the holidays," Chamberlain added.
Monique Wright said she turned "a nice letter" to Tops into a $50 gift certificate of candy. She admitted it took her four tries to get the letter right, but she turned the candy into the stocking stuffers of the "Something Sweet" campaign.
"It makes you feel good about yourself," Wright said of the work. Her effort in securing $50 worth of candy was returned four-fold, because the "Something Sweet" fundraiser made $200, twice as much as the previous year.
Other fundraisers included faculty at Grand Island High School, whose dress-down money generated a $100 donation, and Connor Middle School students, who donated $500.