Students at St. Thomas Aquinas High School began the season of giving early this year in record-breaking fashion.
During the school’s “CANdyland Canned Food Drive,” the students gave Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas 113,936 cans of food, the largest single food donation the charity has received in its 55-year history.
“It was completely amazing,” said Kim Brabits, director of emergency assistance for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. “It was heartwarming to see kids that age really commit to a project and carry it through with an amazing outcome.”
It took one 53-foot trailer and several 14-foot trucks to transport the canned goods from the school to the food pantry in Olathe.
The donations will go a long way. Some of the food has already been given away, some will be given over the next few months and some will be saved until next summer, a particularly tough time for donations.
Last holiday season, Catholic Charities filled 17,692 requests for food, nearly 30 percent of the 59,000 requests served in the last fiscal year. More than 5,000 families were assisted last month alone, and more than 750 Thanksgiving baskets will be given to families next week.
“There are so many people at our doors every day. There’re families, there’re children and they are looking for food,” said Rachel Hodgson, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. “Many kids are thinking about what they want for Christmas. Our kids are just excited to walk out our front doors with a can of green beans.”
Brabits said that people don’t often think of poverty when they think of suburbia. However, poverty trends are increasing in the suburbs, and the poverty rate in Johnson County stands at 7.1 percent.
“We’re trying to educate the community that poverty is everywhere, not just where you traditionally think it is,” Brabits said.
Brogan Moroney, senior class president, said the success and popularity of the annual food drive builds upon itself each year. This year a simple idea motivated students to out-give themselves. He told fellow students that the difference between a helping hand and an outstretched palm is the twist of the wrist.
“It means I should never forget how lucky I am to have everything I have been given. I could have easily been on the other side of all our giving,” Moroney said.
Student Council President Emily Wheeler helped organize and advertise the canned-food drive, which included attracting media attention and garnering corporate sponsorship for the food drive.
“I don’t know what it is about our school. For some reason, students love canned food drives. They love going door to door for cans,” she said.
Asking for help may be hard for a lot of families to do, but Catholic Charities tries to make the process easy. People in need of food, rent or utility assistance or those who want to give a donation can call 913-433-2100. Photo ID and a birthdate are needed for food assistance. Rent and/or utility assistance require photo ID, Social Security number and rent or utility bill.
“Giving is a way to celebrate the season. It’s a time people can give back and show that they are thankful for what they have,” Brabits said. “It’s a very important part of the holidays. It’s really what the holidays are about.”