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Beautifying Their School & Starting a New Garden

October 20 was a very big day at Lynn/UrquidesElementary.

Hundreds of students there—just about every one of them—worked on beautifying their school or helped to get their school garden going for this school year. It was part of United Way’s Days of Caring.

Most of the kids, with big smiles on their faces, were helping the school to rock on! These students used bright paints and their creativity to make hundreds of wild-looking decorative river rocks.

Other Lynn/Urquides students painted beautiful new coyote paw prints on the school’s sidewalks, while others touched up and sealed (clear coated) the paw prints painted last year.

For the third project for Days of Caring, students planted seeds in metal horse troughs to start this year’s vegetable gardens! “We got soil and are learning how a plant can be nurtured—the best ways,” says Ariana Varelas, community liaison for the school. “We have six troughs, one for each grade level, and we planted seeds that are in season right now,” she continues. With proper care by the kids, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and kale will start sprouting!

The painted river rocks will SPIFF UP the boring gray planters and will surround the tree wells of the trees that the students planted as part of last year’s Days of Caring.

“It’s healthy and totally important because (our students) get to take ownership of the school, of their experience here,” Varelas explains. She points out that this kind of learning—a hands-on, practical kind—teaches the kids valuable lessons about community building.

“It’s special because they are making their own school better. It really nurtures the idea of taking care of your school,” she continues. “And when you planted that plant or painted that rock, you don’t want to vandalize it or let others vandalize it.” Respecting your school by beautifying it—what a lovely thing to do! 

Students Give Time to Help Local School 

The United Way in Southern Arizona hosted Days of Caring in October. The event included drives for needed items for several organizations. Items were also collected and distributed to those in need at the Tucson Convention Center. Volunteers were also put to work.

The Downtown Community School, a preschool that was closed for a year after a fire in July 2016 destroyed the roof and caused smoke and water damage, was one recipient of Days of Caring. Students from University of Arizona’s Eller College of Business spent a weekend morning building new furniture for the school. 

These Wildcat workers put together a new bench, cube shelves, a table and chairs. The wagon wheel bench HARKENS to the days when the building served as a wagon repair shop in the old downtown area, Barrio Viejo, explained school board president Amber Jones.

Downtown Community School is also collecting new books to restock the library. Board members Jones and Connie Espinoza explain that surviving books were covered with soot and had an “overwhelming smell of smoke” after the fire. 

The school is accepting high quality books that focus on socioemotional development, says school director Emily McCrea. Donations can be dropped off at Downtown Community School at 614 S. Meyer, Tucson. The preschool is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

No One Should Go Hungry

There are a lot of Arizona kids and families who don’t have enough to eat. But by rallying classmates, kids and teens are helping to provide amazing amounts of food for those who need it.

The United Food Bank in Mesa provides food to more than 220 agencies across five Arizona counties. It also provides programs for schools with low-income students, a discounted weekly food purchasing program and other programs in its mission to alleviate hunger, reduce FOOD INSECURITY and increase the nutritional smarts in the communities it serves. It adds up to the food bank providing more than 60,000 meals a day for an area in Arizona that’s roughly the size of New Hampshire! Rural areas in Arizona often are hit the hardest in terms of food insecurity. Some towns don’t even have a grocery store.

When you’re eating in your school cafeteria, look around at all your schoolmates. Chances are, depending on where you live, about one out of every four kids aren’t getting enough to eat! The lunch and maybe breakfast that they get at school is at least some of the food that they can count on.

“Kids show it (their hunger) differently than adults,” explains Tyson Nansel, director of media relations and communications for the United Food Bank. “Kids who are hungry aren’t participating very much in school activities, they aren’t personable, it’s hard to think. And here in Arizona, one in four kids is hungry here—

we’re one of the highest in the country for food insecurity for children.”

The cool thing is that you and your school can be part of the solution! And learning about nutrition through things like starting a school garden, eating more of the right kinds of food, and creating a little emergency pantry at home for when money gets tight, are really important life lessons.

In our Arizona heat, water is essential. A Boy Scout won the Youth Ambassador Award from the United Food Bank by collecting bottled water for the Mesa hydration campaign as his Eagle Scout Project this summer. He had a goal of 20 shipping pallets of water and ended up with 41 pallets—a whole semi-truck full!

In 2011, Williams Field High School in Gilbert started a great food drive. “The Stuff the Bus program is awesome,” says Melissa Forrester, community engagement specialist for the food bank. “Every year, its classrooms receive collection containers from us—long thin barrels. The classrooms are competing against each other. They’re collecting, and they have these weigh-ins where they bring their barrels to a bus and watch it fill up during their food drive. The class that collects the most pounds actually gets to accompany the bus here to United Food Bank, and help unload the bus. In six years, the school has collected 65,000 pounds of food. That equals 55,300 meals!

United Food Bank offers its School Food Drive Competition in the fall. Letters are sent out to schools in a local district, with trophies going to the school that collects the most food—like jars of peanut butter, jam or jelly, canned fruits and veggies, canned meat, pasta, and rice. The elementary schools compete against each other, as do the middle schools. The food bank takes the total amount of food a school collects and divides it by the number of students there. The school with the highest number wins for that district! There are about 30 trophies made out of cans that are awarded each year.

“Desert Ridge Junior High consistently has been the overall grand champion,” Forrester shares. “Principal Jean Woods had food insecurity growing up, so it has been near and dear to her heart to teach these seventh- and eighth-graders that they have the power and can and should give back.” By having fun incentives for the students to bring in a lot of food, the school went from filling a bus to a semi-truck, all collected in just a couple weeks!

Other Ways Young People Can Help!

  • Encourage people to donate for hurricane relief for Puerto Rico:
United for Puerto Rico, UNICEF, Center for Popular Democracy, Hispanic Fed’s “Unidos” page, International Medical Corps, One America Appeal, Catholic Relief Services, Americares, Save the Children.
  • Collect books for your local literacy group or shelter for women and children.
  • Check with your local animal shelter to see if they need certain types of dog or cat food or see if you meet age requirements for volunteering there. Sometimes younger kids can help if accompanied by a parent.
  • Start a food, blanket or jacket/sweater drive at your school, sports team, scout group or church.
  • Organize a cleanup group for your neighborhood.