EVESHAM >> More than 50 pint-sized recruits from the Marlton Elementary School (MES) student body, under the direction of various parent volunteers from the MES PTA, assembled the contents of 30 Thanksgiving meals in 20 minutes in their school gymnasium on Nov. 25, and then hand-delivered them to the Wiley Food Pantry at the Wiley Church here.

Assembling the Thanksgiving meals has become a yearly tradition at MES. Students and their families sign-up to provide specific components that, when collected, make up a traditional Thanksgiving meal – jars of gravy, cans of cranberry sauce, bags of potatoes, boxes of stuffing, pies, and of course, turkeys. “The food sign-up is open for about two weeks,” explained MES PTA president Carla Gable. “The sign-up for the student volunteers typically is only open one day, because so many students want to help, and everyone volunteers so quickly! We really like to have about 50 students sign-up so it can remain manageable.”

The event is a study in organization and joy, which results in the true meaning of giving back to the community. Students were seated on the gym floor by Mrs. Gable, who then explained the importance of giving back, and providing help to members of the community who need a little assistance. She explained that the younger students would be paired with an older buddy who would help them make Thanksgiving cards that are included with each meal and read the labels on the cans and boxes. Students enjoyed a snack and some water while working on their cards – brightly decorated and filled with holiday wishes.

After finishing the cards, the paired students were given their “food” assignment. Students were told to take, for example, the potatoes piled on the front of the stage and carry it to the “potato” table, the same for canned vegetables, etc. In record time, the food was moved, and then under the watchful eye of the parents, packed into numbered bags. The students then lined up all of the bags – by number – at the back of the gym, and after a group photo, carried the bags out to a waiting truck that would transport them to Wiley.

“This was so great,” said one student, as he carried a bag out to the truck. “It’s good to help people who need help,” said another student. “I liked making the cards, the best,” said another. The PTA, MES, and the Evesham Township School District believe this is a wonderful opportunity for the students to experience the meaning of the season and to give back to the community. “It is a fantastic experience for the kids,” said Gable. “They made a new friend in their buddy and learned about giving back.”

“You can see how excited the children are when they bring in the bags of food,” said Lynne Allen of the Wiley Food Pantry. “Everything is so well-organized. The program at Marlton Elementary is such a tremendous help to the Food Pantry. The families who receive the Thanksgiving meals are so appreciative. Our Food Pantry has grown so much that these meals are a huge help. The children and families at Marlton Elementary really did an amazing job.”

In addition to the food and the cards from the students, each meal also included $15 grocery gift cards also donated by the MES families.

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