Photo by Kelly White
Yasmen Abughoush (from left), 13, of Oak Lawn, and Tori Hartin, 13, of Oak Lawn, participated in Oak Lawn-Hometown's 7th Annual Feed6 Meal Packaging event on Saturday at the school in Oak Lawn.
By Kelly White
Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School students donated their time and compassion this weekend as they packed meals for those in need during the holiday season.
The school, at 5345 W. 99th St. in Oak Lawn, hosted its 7th Annual Feed6 Meal Packaging event, where students gathered together with their families, friends, teachers and school staff members for a two-hour event, packaging fortified meals to be delivered to local food pantries.
“ This experience makes me feel like a better person because I’m taking part in this great program and helping out those in need,” said Yasmen Abughoush, 13, of Oak Lawn.
Feed6 organizes meal packaging events in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, where volunteers come together to package nutritional meals of macaroni and cheese fortified with soy and vitamins — many multiples more nutritious than popular brands available in the supermarket.
“ Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 believes in giving back to our community,” said Heather McCarthy, a seventh grade English Language arts teacher at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School. “ We teach our students the importance of community service and service learning as well as academics success. Partnering with Feed 6 allows our students to see the impact they can have in their community through service learning. I think it is crucial for students to start giving back to their community at the youngest age possible. Once children see the impact they are having on their community and also feel the emotional benefits of helping others, they begin to participate in more and more service learning events. Events like this are the foundation for a life of giving.”
For the past two years, McCarthy joined forces with Oak Lawn Community Liaison Officer Larry Fetchko to organize the district’s meal packing event. Since their partnership, the project also brings out community organizations such as the local library, Lions Club, Kiwanis and village officials.
"The Feed 6 Mega Event is not only a tribute to the efforts of our students and staff at OLHMS, but also a powerful celebration of community working together on a very timely and strategic initiative,” Fetchko said.
“ I love how this event gives back directly to our community,” McCarthy said. “ It is a great hands-on experience for community members of all ages. Each volunteer gets to see the impact of their actions firsthand.
All 200 volunteers on Saturday met in the school’s cafeteria where they received an apron, hairnet, and gloves for sanitary purposes. They then watched an instructional video on how to properly package the meals. After that, they were divided up into teams of 12, and each team formed an assembly line where they first fill a bag with macaroni noodles, soy, and a packet of cheese with fortified nutrients. The bag was then passed to the next station where it is weighed to match the nutrition label. Finally, the bag was sealed, receives a dated sticker, and is packaged. Each bag feeds six people.
Last year, more than 17,000 meals were sent to local food pantries, and this year will be no different, school officials said.
Receiving pantries every year include, but are not limited to: St. Linus food pantry, St. Catherine, St. Germaine food pantry, St. Gerald food pantry, Our Lady of Loretto food pantry, Oak Lawn Park District Veterans program, St. Paul Lutheran food pantry, PLOWS Council on Aging, Operations Blessings, Trinity Lutheran Pads program, Salem Baptist women’s shelter and PADS program, Pilgrim Faith food pantry and PADS program, Park Lawn residential housing program, Simmons Middle School social worker program, Justice food pantry, Evergreen Park food pantry, Worth food pantry and Almost Home.
“ This program shows that no matter what age we are, we can help end child hunger. I am hoping we get as much done as we can in the time that we have,” said Emily Schrode, 13, of Oak Lawn.
Money for the food came directly from district students who have collected a minimum of $30 to help cover the costs of the food, materials, and delivery. Most students used their Thanksgiving Break to ask family and friends for donations, McCarthy said.
Through this generous effort, more than $9,000 was raised this year.
“ I hope this year we can help as many families as possible while also helping some of our own families,” said Margaret Gillespie, 13, of Oak Lawn.
Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School Principal Sean McNichols said he could not be more proud of his students.
"Our middle school is an incredible place for scholars to explore all facets of life and participate in activities that will be remembered for a lifetime,” McNichols said. “This event is an opportunity for our scholars to serve the larger community and genuinely leave an empathetically powerful impact on each of them.”