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Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School volunteers collect, package food for needy

  • Written by Janelle Frost

 

Taking classes and boxing are typically what Nasser Nagi and Cayla Fett, respectively, do on Saturday.

But this past Saturday the two Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School students instead did something for others in need.

Nasser, 12, and Cayla, 14, were among 162 volunteers who packaged 17,405 meals on Saturday at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School’s gymnasium. The meals of pasta -- all fortified with soy protein, nutrients and vitamins -- is being donated to local food pantries, the school's food drive, and a veterans’ shelter within the community.

“I wanted to give time back to people in need,” said seventh-grader Nasser. “People around the world are in need. People don’t notice, they just care about their lives.”

Cayla, who raised $100 toward the cost of the food, said a lot of kids don’t have food even though there’s food to give.

“It’s good to help out,” said Cayla, who is in the eighth grade.

This is the third year that the school has participated in the community service event, and has partnered with Feed6, the local affiliate of Outreach – a charity that has been packaging meals for the hungry in the U.S. and abroad since 2004.

Heather McCarthy, organizer of Saturday’s event and a teacher at the school, said the partnership came after she learned about another school that held a meal packaging event and she saw the positive impact it had on the community.

“Our district has a strong belief that students should take part in bettering their school, community, and themselves through community service hours,” McCarthy said. “We require each student to complete two hours of community service each year. I thought this would be a great opportunity for our students to see the positive impact of doing community service.”

In addition to District 123 students, staff, families, alumni and community members helped packaged boxes Saturday, while music played throughout the gym.

“We’re having fun doing it,” said teacher Andy Weber, who participated with his sons, Charlie, 4, and Conor, 3.

Feed6 co-founder Chris Coyne said the community service events are “extraordinarily important.”

“The need is great and this is an ideal opportunity for children to express their giving nature in a safe setting,” said Coyne, who helped Saturday with fellow co-founder Bill Kanatas.

Feed6 has been hosting events with schools, churches, corporations, chambers of commerce, and community organizations for four years, Coyne said. During that period, Feed6 has packaged nearly 2.5 million meals for hungry and food insecure local children, families, veterans, and seniors in partnership with thousands of volunteers. 

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, nearly 762,000 individuals of the 5.2 million people in Cook County, which includes Oak Lawn, were food insecure in 2013.

“It’s something a lot of families camouflage,” said Kristin Simpkins, the principal at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, about hunger and food insecurity in the community. “We definitely need to support families in the community. It’s becoming more prevalent.”

Northern Illinois Food Bank states on its website that it “is committed to filling (the)‘meal gap’ and recently announced a strategic plan with a goal of bringing the number of meals distributed by Northern Illinois Food Bank and its network to 75 million annually by the year 2020, and thus providing every meal, every day, for every hungry neighbor.”

Outreach and Feed6 also are working with organizations and individuals to address the overwhelming and growing need, Coyne said. “This year we plan to package 500,000 meals -- and we hope in 2016 to initiate the first of an annual series of Chicago-based Million Meal Events.”

From Saturday’s event, 2,500 meals will go to veterans, many of whom are homeless, and the hungry and poor, Coyne said. The others will go to children and families.

The packaged meals are a “good way to get something nutritious to those in need,” Coyne said.