By Jenny Neyman
The challenge wasn’t to get the first- through sixth-graders at Soldotna Montessori Charter School motivated to help feed the hungry in their community. The trick was getting them to be a little less enthusiastic and more measured about the task of packaging ingredients for dry soup mixes that would be donated to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
“This is not a race. The important part is to not throw beans everywhere and to go slow and be accurate. So, slow down. Thank you,” said Matt Faris, a teacher at the Montessori school, who was directing an assembly line of students Feb. 27 as they added dried beans, cans of tomato and other ingredients to zip-topped bags, along with a hand-decorated card bearing cooking instructions and a message from students.
Bean Soup Day, as it’s affectionately called, involves all but the kindergarteners at the school. Over 600 area residents will enjoy a free, nutritious, easy-to-make meal, thanks to donations from the school community, a deal with Peterkin Distributing to purchase ingredients at cost, and the enthusiastic packing efforts of students.
“I feel very happy that I know that I can help somebody to have a better life or to just not be hungry when they go to sleep, because it makes me sad to think that there’s people in the world that have that happen,” said fifth-grader Katharine Bramante.
But it’s not just the hungry being fed. The project also fills students with the realization that they can make a difference in their community.
“We do this community service to show that these kids, they can make a difference,” Bramante said. “Because some kids feel very, like, they don’t feel wanted, and then when they see that they can do these things they feel like they can do it and they … ”
“They feel like they can contribute,” added sixth-grader Peyton Story.
“I think they find a lot of comfort in knowing that they’re just little kids, but they make more of a difference than they know,” said teacher Terri Carter.
Community interaction is a staple of the Montessori program. From the start of third quarter until spring break, the upper grades spend their lunch and recess period on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon every week out in the community, with fourth-graders visiting the senior center, fifth-graders going to the food bank and sixth-graders visiting an assisted-living facility.
“Now, the food bank’s a little bit different because as soon as they’re done eating they work,” Faris said. “Whereas at the senior center and the Riverside House it’s more interacting with the people that are there — visiting, talking, sharing. It’s just been great. Kids love it.”
Tommy Snow, a fourth-grader, likes visiting with people at the senior center.
“It’s fun. You get to meet all of the nice people and see what they did when they were younger,” he said.
As a sixth-grader, Peyton has been to the senior center, the food bank and now visits Riverside House, and says he has enjoyed them all.
“Since I go to the assisted living center, it makes me feel better to go there and be able to keep people company who usually don’t see kids anymore. … I’d say that they were both great. You contribute to the community in both ways, and in any way I can help the community, I will,” he said.
Bean Soup Day is an opportunity for the entire school to volunteer together, with upper-grade students partnering with younger kids to work in teams. That was especially fun for first-grader Jacob Strausbaugh.
“Uuuum, that we get to give it to people that didn’t have food, and we’re doing it in my sister’s class,” he said.
Carter said that the three participating classrooms were shooting for producing 175 bags each, but ended up packaging over 200 soup mix bags apiece.
“I think people should know what hard workers you are,” she told the students as they were wrapping up, packaging up any leftover ingredients to also be donated to the food bank. “There’s a lot of people that will have good dinners because of the time you spent here today.”