By Ingrid Schnader
When students are on free or reduced-price lunch programs, they’re able to leave their food insecurity at home when they go to school. But over holidays such as Thanksgiving break, they’ll go one week or longer without being able to take advantage of their school’s programs.
To help give the community some relief this holiday season, Ashley Seligson packed 2,500 brown bags with the nonprofit she founded, Little Hands Serving Hearts.
More than 200 families were expected to meet at Canterbury United Methodist Church on Nov. 13 to pack 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of food into brown bags. Each bag was to be packed with about 13 items that students can use to feel food secure over the Thanksgiving break. Items are things such as microwavable macaroni and cheese, granola bars, animal crackers, goldfish, fruit snacks and peanut butter crackers.
“So all kid-friendly items that might be appetizing to them but also very easy for them to get into,” Seligson said.
These bags will go to two schools in which a majority of students are on free or reduced-price lunch or breakfast programs. This year’s schools are Hayes K-8 School and Hemphill Elementary School.
“Every student gets a bag, no matter if they’re on the program or not” Seligson said. “Typically in these schools they’re still in need. They just might not have qualified for that poverty level. So everyone gets one, and that way no one’s singled out.”
On Nov. 14, some of the children volunteering with LHSH and some of the children from the schools in need will get the opportunity to skip school and help deliver the bags.
“They get to see exactly who they’re helping,” Seligson said. “It’s really neat to see the kids interact with one another, and they realize, ‘They’re just like I am, just in a different situation.’”
Braxton, Seligson’s 9-year-old son, said he enjoys participating in the event and making new friends.
“You go into their classroom and they say, ‘Hey, who are these people?” he said. “Then you make new friends, and you come back every year and high five each other.
“You meet a lot of new people there, and it’s just so much fun doing it. What I love about it is the serving opportunities for us to come together and learn about our community.”
For Seligson, watching the excitement and joy on the children’s faces as they pass out bags is her favorite part.
“I’m sitting here picturing it, thinking back into the lobby of this elementary school, and those kids filing in,” she said. “And our kids handing them out and being super excited to go grab a bag and go to the end of the line to be able to hand it to them.
“And then just the excitement on the kids’ faces of knowing that they got a special treat and they didn’t have to worry about anything. And the hugs, the smiles and the sheer joy of those kids. It’s hard to even put into words.”
This is Seligson’s third year being in charge of the Thanksgiving Food Drive, and she said it grows every year.
“Before it was kind of a smaller group, and it continues to grow as word has gotten out about Little Hands Serving Hearts and the different things that we’re doing,” she said. “It’s been a complete grassroots effort but being able to see more people come to events and participate, not only with their kids but as a family unit.”
The Three T’s
One thing she said she hopes every child takes away from this event is that they all have something to give, and she calls it the Three T’s: time, talent and treasures.
“It’s really figuring out, do you have time to give to somebody?” she said. “Treasures can not only be financial, but it could also be the coat in their closet that doesn’t fit anymore, the toy in the corner that you don’t play with anymore. … And then finally, really figuring out what your talent is, and then sharing that with others.”
Someone’s talent could be as simple as smiling at a stranger, giving a compliment or holding the door open for somebody, she said.
“It doesn’t have to be some grandiose idea or thing, but really getting them to plug in at an early age,” she said. “My husband and I always say the secret to living is giving. So really trying to instill that into our children and everyone who participates in the program. Because the feeling that you get when you give to others is something that can’t be duplicated with material things.”
In the two years since LHSH’s founding, Seligson has arranged almost 50 different service opportunities for children. For more information on getting involved, visit littlehandsservinghearts.org.