A club designed to foster kindness, compassion, and service to others lived up to its name at Pocopson Elementary School on Thursday, Oct. 12.
Students in grades three through five, members of the school’s fledgling Kids with Heart Club, enthusiastically greeted representatives of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office. They were eager to show off their “Good-for-You Groceries” project for less-privileged children.
Students had an opportunity to meet and interact with three teams from the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit – Lt. Harry McKinney and Melody, Deputy Michael Sarro and Dexter and Deputy September Spencer and Luke. Then they got busy stuffing 50 grocery bags with healthful food and snacks, crafting notes to the recipients, and finally, using chalk to write positive messages on the sidewalk outside the cafeteria.
Some of the students took an upbeat but serious approach to the notes placed inside each bag with colorful drawings and messages such as “We care about you,” “Caring is sharing,” and “Have a great meal.” Others opted for a more whimsical approach: “Eat up, son” was signed by Mr. Smiley Melon, and one student quoted Dr. Seuss: “Why fit in when you were meant to stand out?”
After the students completed their tasks, they each got a club t-shirt. The front of the red shirt contained the club’s names; the back, its mantra: “Kindness is the new cool.”
Janis Michels, one of five parents overseeing the club, said the idea for the club stemmed from the parents’ conversations about how blessed their children were. “Many of our children don’t have any idea of the trials and tribulations that other children experience,” she said, adding that she received personal inspiration from another parent, Lisa Barrickman, who wrote a book entitled “A Case for Kindness.”
Once Michels, Sylvia Kane, Tracy Wahl, Julie Gates and Eileen Day realized they were on the same page, they got permission from Pocopson Principal Clif Beaver to start the club.
Michels said the organizers had planned to operate the club with 25 students; however, sign-up day proved much more popular than expected. To avoid a revolt, the club accepted 40 members and established a waiting list.
The healthy food outreach grew out of a connection Michels had with Heaven on Earth NOW, a national nonprofit whose programs include the “Good-for-You Groceries” initiative. A small group of club members went shopping after school at the Giant supermarket in the Dilworthtown Crossing Shopping Center. Their mission: selecting specific, nutritious food options, such as whole grain cereal and unsweetened applesauce cups. In addition to monitoring the ingredients, the students worked with a list and a budget, Michels said.
“It was wonderful seeing them shop for healthier options while being conscious of cost and ingredients,” said Michels. “They really took it seriously and perhaps have a new-found appreciation of what it is like to shop on a tighter budget.”
Michels said the managers at Giant provided invaluable counsel. “They were great with the kids and were helpful in getting our cost as close to the $15 to $17 limit as possible,” she said. She also praised the participation of Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, who offered to assist in finding recipients for the food.
Less than a day after the Pocopson Elementary students prepared the gifts, Welsh and a couple of deputies delivered them to the Chester County Family Academy in West Chester. Welsh serves on the board of the K-2 school, which was founded in 1997 to carry out the vision of local philanthropists Dick and Sheila Sanford “to make a difference in the lives of children.”
English is a second language for most of the families, who value education but struggle financially, said Susan Flynn, the academy’s chief executive officer. On Friday, Oct. 13, Flynn oversaw the distribution of the grocery bags to groups of gleeful children.
Flynn explained that students at another school had not only selected the items but also enclosed messages, some of which reduced some of the adults present to tears. For their part, the children were so appreciative and delighted that they asked if they could do something similar for other kids.
“These are two groups of children who might never have interacted. But the combination of the caring hearts of the club members and the grateful recipients at the academy has created a unique and beautiful bond,” Welsh said. “The fact that the experience has encouraged the academy’s students to pay it forward is truly a joy to behold. The Sheriff’s Office was thrilled to play a small role in that.”
Photo caption: Chester County Sheriff Carolyn ‘Bunny’ Welsh interacts with club members as they write messages to the grocery recipients.