Peninsula Optional High School students (from left) Dakota Tuttle and Clancy Skipwith pack food boxes for families in the Students in Transition program while Carol Morris, grants manager with the school district, seals them up Nov. 19 at the borough building in Soldotna.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Peninsula Optional High School students dished out a helping hand Nov. 19 in the form of Thanksgiving food boxes for families in need in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
Students assembled food boxes at the Borough Building in Soldotna to be distributed to families in the Students in Transition program. Karen Ruebsamen, homeless liaison for the district, heads the project, which offers assistance to students and their families without a stable place to live.
The food came from more than $600 in donations collected from school District Office departments. The money stretched enough to cover 22 food boxes with a discount from Fred Meyer, and U-Haul donated the boxes to pack it all up.
Recipients got a turkey, stuffing, potatoes, onion, celery, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, butter, rolls and even a roasting pan.
"The families that I work with are definitely in transition. They might be at a place where they don't have those utensils and things," Ruebsamen said.
Ruebsamen and Carol Morris, grants manager for the district, delivered the food Nov. 19 to families spread across the central Kenai Peninsula.
"We deliver from the end of Funny River Road to the end of Sterling to not quite the end of Nikiski," she said.
Having the Peninsula Optional students lend their hands to the work got the boxes packed up and ready to be delivered in plenty of time.
"We jumped at the chance," said Peninsula Optional Principal Gregg Wilbanks. "Service, learning projects and giving back to the community are a big part of the school so when service chances come our way we take it."
Service opportunities abound during the holidays with families in need of food, winter clothes and toys to help celebrate the season. Help comes from churches, service organizations, the food bank, businesses and individual donors, but it takes organization to match those wanting to give with those needing to receive. In schools, volunteers put together lists of families in need through recommendations, applications or direct contact with families. Then schools hold their own food and toy drives, or look to the community for help meeting those needs.
The search can be more difficult some years than others. This Thanksgiving was the first in recent years where the ABATE group, Alaska Bikers Advocating Training and Education, didn't do its food drive, which used to result in about 145 Thanksgiving food boxes for families in the school district, Ruebsamen said. Ruebsamen organized her own Thanksgiving food drive to cover the Students in Transition families that used to get help through ABATE, and other volunteers also looked elsewhere for help.
The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank saw an increase in requests for Thanksgiving food boxes for families with children this year, said Linda Swarner, executive director. The food bank also supplies food to groups that distribute holiday boxes to people in need, like churches and service organizations.
The Salvation Army runs a massive communitywide toy and food drive for the holidays. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary donated $100 to seven area schools to use for holiday programs and will do a toy drive with the Young Marines for Christmas. Churches also are active in supporting their congregations and the rest of the community.
The Nikiski Neighbors program, headquartered at North Star Methodist Church, provided 75 Thanksgiving food boxes this year, and expects to do another 90 for Christmas, as well as its toy and clothing drive for Nikiski children.
In Sterling, the communitywide Share in the Giving program, headed by a network of churches, businesses and the senior center, supplies holiday food and Christmas toys for community families, including those from Sterling Elementary and Sterling Head Start.
Schools also make a lesson of generosity, holding holiday food and toy drives. Kenai schools have one of the longest-running annual holiday giving programs.
The Christmas drive started about 26 years ago. For many years it was a joint effort between Sears and Mountain View elementary schools. This year the program will benefit 60 to 65 families at Mountain View and Kenai Middle School, said Kimb Remson, secretary at Mountain View.
Volunteers gather donations to supply school families with Christmas dinner, toys, clothes and winter gear.
"I see the need and no one else has stepped up to do it. And I enjoy it. It's fun," said Remson, who has been coordinating the program for 16 years.
Anyone can get in on the fun by donating to or volunteering with these or other service organizations. Or simply contact a school to find out how to help.
Jenny Neyman is the communications specialist with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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