Shouts of pre-teen voices and the squeals of rubber-soled sneakers on concrete blasted through the silence. Empty cardboard boxes and plastic wrap flew around the room like a mini tornado.
Brightly-colored Aeropostle t-shirts and Abercrombie hoodies blur together in a frantic rainbow.
Then, in a flurry of coins and quick fingers, the vending machine was cleaned out of candy and soda.
It’s just the raw energy and enthusiasm of more than 200 seventh graders.
Over the course of two weeks in late January, the entire seventh grade class from Holman Middle School in the Pattonville School District converged on the Volunteer Center at St. Louis Area Foodbank.
For three hours straight on several days, the students relied on the full force of their youthful enthusiasm to pack box after box of pasta, rice, beans and beef stew for families in need. And as they packed, they learned a few lessons about compassion and working together to help others.
“The seventh graders are here today as part of Rachel’s Challenge,” says Rita Rutledge, a social studies teacher and department chairperson at Holman. “Our school has adopted the Rachel’s Challenge philosophy and we chose this week because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”
Rachel’s Challenge was started by the family of Rachel Scott, the first person killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Her acts of kindness and compassion coupled with the contents of her six diaries have become the foundation “for one of the most life-changing school programs in America,” according to the Rachel’s Challenge website.
“They had found a bunch of her writings and she had talked about being kind to others and never bullying people,” Rutledge says. “They challenge the students to be nice to others and to never bully others.”
The mission of Rachel’s Challenge is to: “create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.”
“I think volunteering here gives the kids a sense of doing things for others without monetary reward,” Rutledge says. “I think the kids realize that being kind is something we should do in our daily life. Hopefully we are fostering a lifelong belief of working for your community.”
Holman Middle School is participating in Rachel’s Challenge throughout the year, and volunteering at the Foodbank is just part of their commitment. They chose to do their community service day at the Foodbank because a small group of students had previously volunteered here on the 9/11 day of service.
Rutledge said the students had such a positive experience at the Foodbank, she wanted to bring the entire class back.
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at The St. Louis Area Foodbank.