IN OUR SCHOOLS

RANTIN: Combating hunger, one lap at a time

brantin@thestate.com (803) 771-8306November 26, 2013 

— ONLINE

The laps around the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School Athletic Center were more than symbolic as the school took its annual strike against hunger.

Fifth- through eighth-graders at the school got moving for the 10th Turkey Trot Tuesday to culminate the annual food drive for Harvest Hope Food Bank.

The event is normally held on the school’s outdoor track but was moved inside this year because of rainy weather. But there was no damper on the enthusiasm, as students made one energetic lap after another around the school gym to a backdrop of music and cheering parents and administrators.

“They know what they’re walking for and they know that they’re helping others,” said Dinah Cook, a Heathwood parent who came out to encourage her son, James Cook, and his classmates.

In recent weeks, Heathwood students have explored the issues of hunger in the community. As part of that, several students toured Harvest Hope to learn what the agency is doing to combat hunger across the state.

“Our younger students now have a better understanding of the hunger issues facing many of our fellow South Carolinians,” said Rich Edwards, Heathwood’s intermediate and elementary dean of students. “The students were engaged and asked great questions as they learned about the collection, delivery, sorting, storage, and distribution of donated food to Harvest Hope by the volunteers.”

That awareness apparently took root. Instead of seeking pledges for each mile walked in the Turkey Trot – as in previous years – the students were encouraged to seek donations for Harvest Hope from family members and friends.

“We have found that we prefer asking for a donation as opposed to pledges based on laps walked, but we still enjoy the activity of walking as a community,” Edwards said.

This year the school raised $13,000, to bring its overall contributions to Harvest Hope to more than $100,000 since the Turkey Trot was launched in 2004.

Some students said those numbers are more significant to them now.

“I didn’t know it was such a problem, but now I know a lot more about it,” eighth-grader Catie Johnson said of the hunger issues in the community.

Classmate Jaelen King said he thinks it’s important for more people his age to get involved in addressing the problem.

“When we take this initiative, it shows that we care and are a vital part of the community,” he said.

Harvest Hope CEO Denise Holland said the $13,000 raised by the school will provide about 65,000 meals, adding the students’ effort “engages a true sense of philanthropy within their student body” while “instilling the joy and generosity of giving in young minds.”

Heathwood officials hope the lessons learned in recent weeks won’t end with Tuesday’s walk.

“With the information we share with the students, we hope it is an opportunity to practice speaking knowledgeably about Harvest Hope and our service learning component at school,” Edwards said.

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