After learning about food insecurity in Vermont and around the world, second graders at Johnson Elementary School brought 893 food items to the Johnson Food Shelf ahead of a Thanksgiving holiday.

Teacher Tasha Waweru created an entire curriculum that culminated in the food drive that could get the kids physically involved in their local community while learning broader lessons about the world around them.

“I wanted to create a meaningful learning opportunity for my kids, and I think that coming back from COVID, they’re this age group that has been especially hit because they started their education in front of a computer,” Waweru said of her students, who were in kindergarten in the first year of the pandemic. “Getting back into the routines of the classroom has been a huge part of our work, and so I wanted to create some really engaging, hands-on, meaningful learning opportunities for them.”

Waweru was assisted in the effort by Johnson kindergarten teacher Dedre Dolan.

The curriculum began in the fall with discussion of seasonal harvests, which organically led into conversations about food insecurity, both globally and in Vermont. Waweru wanted to encourage her students to give back to the community, and after a collaborative discussion they landed on the idea of hosting a food drive.

According to a recent University of Vermont study, two in five Vermonters are currently experiencing food insecurity.

In order to collect food, students made posters and wrote speeches. They collected weekly donation data from each class, which they managed and represented with bar graphs.

The curriculum culminated in a human food brigade Nov. 18 when students personally escorted their food donations to a truck for delivery to the food shelf.

“The whole experience was just really meaningful, and provided a lot of wonderful, real learning opportunities,” Waweru said. “It’s really the kids’ project. I said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing,’ and the responsibility was on them.”

The food drive comes at a time when the food shelf needs a little extra help.

Just a few years ago, the food shelf served an average of four or five families a week, according to Johnson village trustee and food shelf volunteer Diane Lehouiller.

Now she’s seeing 12 to 16 families coming to the food shelf for food each week.

The Johnson Food Shelf, with help from Northern Vermont University, is also providing 70 turkeys with all the attendant fixings for families in need this week.

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