by Morgan Smith
Third-graders Grace Dartnall, Sloane Strause, Haley Robinson and Madelaine Schultz look forward to helping Charlotte’s hungry each year at Beverly Woods Elementary School.
Though the thought of Charlotte’s homeless makes them sad, the four girls know even the little things – like making sandwiches and bagging cookies and trail mix for the Urban Ministry Soup Kitchen on North College Street – will help make a difference.
“We have so much and others don’t, and some others are homeless and we’re not, so we just want to share with them,” Sloan said.
The girls are in Beth Early’s third-grade class. Early helped start Operation Sandwich at the school six years ago, though actually began the project about 20 years ago when she worked at Pineville Elementary School.
The project was really started by children, Early said of a field trip her Pineville Elementary second-grade class took Uptown. There, students saw men waiting in line to get lunch at the soup kitchen.
“The kids wondered what they could do to help because they were concerned about homelessness and hunger,” Early said.
Now, 20 years later, Early said her students are still fired up about helping the homeless, and the project has spread to be school-wide. Every day this week, April 16 through 20, each grade level has the chance to make 750 sandwiches, 350 bags of trail mix and 350 bags of cookies. The food will provide around 350 homeless and hungry people with lunch for five days, and hopefully sandwiches to take with them for dinner, as well, Early said. The school provides 3,750 sandwiches and 1,750 bags each of trail mix and cookies in all.
Food for the project was purchased and donated by families at the school, Early said, and this year, area businesses helped the cause. Jason’s Deli provided mustard and mayonnaise packages, Sarah Lee donated the bread and B.J.’s Wholesale Club donated plastic sandwich-size bags.
Kristine Dartnall, Grace’s mom, said she loves the school’s mission of service to the community.
“If there is anything that I could instill in my children, it’s how blessed we are and how grateful we should be,” Dartnall said. “We don’t have to worry about a roof over our head, food – and I think this is a marvelous thing to show that this could be someone’s whole meal for a day.”
“We have so much and so I really love it anytime they can be kind,” Dartnall added.
Along with this project, students will write poetry about the experience. Early said there is a big difference between a service project and a service-learning project, and she hopes the students really learn kindness and compassion.
“Through this project, they know the joy of being participating citizens, working in the community to solve problems, to support our neighbors,” Early said. “And we hope it will carry over to their teenage and adult years and that they will be looking for opportunities to serve in their communities.”
The project seems to be making a difference. All four girls from Early’s class said they love making a difference in their community.
For Grace Dartnall, it still surprises her everyday how many homeless and hungry people are in Charlotte.
“It was kind of hard for me to believe that we really needed 750 sandwiches a day because I never knew that we had to make that many sandwiches for that many people – I think it’s really sad,” Grace said. “And now, sometimes when I see a homeless person or someone else who is in trouble, for some reason I just feel so bad and I just really want to help.”
At the end of the week, all extra ingredients will be sent to the soup kitchen for weekend meals since the kitchen operates seven days a week.