By Ben Weaver
AmeriCorps member on the Leckie Elementary School team

More than a decade after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Americans of all ages are performing selfless acts of community service on the anniversary of the attacks to commemorate those lost on that day and in order to demonstrate an unwavering sense of unity despite recent hardships.

In one act of community service that took place this past 9/11, sixth graders from Leckie Elementary School alongside their City Years volunteered their time at the Capital Area Food Bank, the largest non-profit food bank in the nation’s capital.

Despite leaving their regular school day for a whole day, our students were not totally removed from all learning opportunities. Before our volunteer service began, our students were given the chance to walk a mile in the shoes of a number of real individuals who are have a desperate need of the food that comes from non-profits like the Capital Area Food Bank. Our Leckie scholars were given basic information about each person, including their monthly income and the basic monthly expenditures required to maintain their standard of living. During the activity, our students were expected to acquire enough food for their themselves and their families while encountering various difficulties, from having to fill out forms in a different language to having the food store close on them by the time they were able to get money from the bank – difficulties faced every day by those who utilize the food bank’s services. By the end of the activity, our students were exclaiming how unfair the rules were and that the game was rigged against them.

But they then learned that that was exactly the point. The system was working against them. They needed a place like the Capital Area Food Bank in order to get just enough food to feed themselves, let alone their families.

Following the eye-opening experience, our students were asked to write uplifting cards to be sent to those that use the Capital Area Food Bank to obtain their daily food needs. In particular, the sixth graders were asked to write letters to the children that get their food from the food bank.

Before beginning the activity however, the class was asked how they might feel if they got to eat a bag of Doritos for breakfast. An overwhelming majority of the class supported the idea of their parents giving them a salty treat for breakfast. When asked how they would feel about receiving another bag of Doritos for lunch, the numbers favoring the proposition dwindled slightly. For your after-school snack? Even fewer. For dinner? Very few. For breakfast the next day? Almost none. The point of the question was that it can be very difficult to keep your spirits up when facing adverse situations, and especially when forced to eat the same food every day, never mind the adverse effects of the subpar nutritional content offered by the food.

Our students were more than happy to utilize their creative talents to engineer unique card designs and generate uplifting messages to be sent to children that may be feeling down on themselves. Our scholars felt that instead of working for the food bank itself, they had been working for the people that needed the help, and to them that sort of service was much more tangible than simply stacking cans.

At the end of our volunteer service for the day, all of our students received thank yous from the Capital Area Food Bank’s staff, as well as a top official from the Department of Transportation, and they and the rest of my team gave their thanks as well. And while having Doritos for breakfast seemed to be a good idea for the majority of the kids, at the end of the day there was one thing that all the kids were able to agree on: a commitment to more acts of community service in the future.

Thank you to Capital Area Food Bank for partnering with City Year and Leckie Elementary School! For more info about donating to either Capital Area Food Bank or City Year, please visit: capitalareafoodbank.org and cityyear.org

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