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Potsdam fourth graders make a difference

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POTSDAM - It seemed appropriate that on Halloween 28 fourth-grade students at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School treated the Potsdam Neighborhood Center to nearly 1,000 items they had collected as part of their Make a Difference Day campaign.

And it didn’t take them long either, according to teacher Joanne McCormick, who said the students started soliciting donations a week before Make a Difference Day, which fell on Oct. 27.

Announcements over the school’s public address system and flyers delivered by students to other classes got the ball rolling for the drive. Students and staff were asked, if they were able, to bring in two items that could be added to the collection.

“The students delivered the flyers in each class. They got just about 1,000 items,” Ms. McCormick said, noting this was the 19th year she had done the project with her class. They had delivered nearly 900 items to the Neighborhood Center last year.

She said they had read an article about Neighborhood Centers throughout St. Lawrence County and the number of individuals and families who were in need.

“We started by talking about needs in our own community,” she said.

Talking about the number of needy individuals and families tied into their math curriculum, according to Ms. McCormick, and the food drive itself was in line with the September and October character education themes of citizenship, respect and responsibility.

On Wednesday morning, their drive complete, the students loaded box after box of items into a bus that would also transport them to the Potsdam Neighborhood Center to make the delivery. The boxes included not only hundreds of non-perishable foods, but also other items such as toiletries, nearly new book bags and gently used shoes that could be given to someone in the community who needed them.

“Some students brought in nice second-hand book bags and gently used shoes. We got a lot of bang for our bucks,” Ms. McCormick said.

Afterwards, students did “reflective writing” about the project, she said.

“We collected almost 1,000 items. It wasn’t that tough. We got a wheelbarrow and went around the school,” student Nicolas Kelson said.

Now it was time to write about his feelings as they delivered the items to those who could use them.

“We’re writing about what it felt like to deliver food items to the Neighborhood Center. It makes me feel responsible. I feel awesome and cool inside. It will help people who are hungry,” he said.

As he sat down to reflect on the project, student Jonathan Vercellotti said it was the first time he had participated in this type of drive.

“Carrying the bins up the stairs a lot was the hardest,” he said.

He said the items they collected would come in handy for the Potsdam Neighborhood Center.

“We collect food to help people if their house burns down or they’re poor,” he said.

Potsdam Neighborhood Center Director Daisy J. Cox said they’re currently serving between 275 and 300 families each month, so the students’ contributions were greatly appreciated.

“We are very grateful for their kindness and generosity for sure. This is a major food drive. It is a lot of food,” she said.

The donation comes at a time when food pantries are feeling the pinch, Ms. Cox said.

“It’s been a struggle for food pantries around as of late,” she said.

Ms. Cox said fewer donations to the food bank, their main source of food, mean less access for organizations like the Potsdam Neighborhood Center.

Now, thanks to the fourth-graders from Lawrence Avenue, their shelves are stocked up.

“They really do make a difference,” she said.

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