November is a month for giving thanks.
However, the reminiscent memories of turkey, fall-scented candles and familial bonding are not qualities everyone is able to experience, due to hunger and poverty running deep in many communities.
Perry Meridian has its own event for the holidays: the annual canned food drive. Run by STUVO, PMHS has launched the canned food drive for over 10 years.
From bringing in a single can to bringing in half a store’s worth of food, the canned food drive is not purely about competition. It is about providing a resource to families who struggle to afford basic necessities and bringing awareness to food insecurity, which is when someone does not know when they will eat next.
Map the Meal Gap, an organization attempting to end world hunger, reported that Marion County has a food insecurity rate of 18.3 percent. That is almost 180,000 people in Marion County who do not know when they will get their next meal.
This is why the canned food drive provides resources to families in need. On top of the food insecurity rate, 31 percent of residents in Indiana do not qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps to eligible households.
These families only have the ability to retrieve food at food banks, churches, and other outposts that provide help, including Perry.
English teacher Susie Schoch is the designated senior class can-collector. Her room, filled to the brim with cans, is also filled with passion for the less fortunate.
“I always think when you visit places like Gleaner’s, you’re more apt to then continue in that kind of service,” she says, noting that even her senior AP students may be affected by hunger. “Even though I know the facts, it’s hard for me to believe that one of my kids may only eat one time a day.”
Her motivation is her intrinsic want to do positive things for her community.
“There’s probably as much benefit for the person whose able to give as there is for the person who needs something,” she says.
Students are also impassioned by the strides Perry makes for the community. Although some students believe the food drive is purely competition, others use it as a chance to give.
Senior Kaitlyn Egan has participated in the canned food drive every year.
“I think it’s a lot of fun, but it also shows how we, as a school, care,” she says. “I feel like it’s so generic to say that my favorite part is everyone coming together and winning, but I genuinely feel that.”
Schoch shares a similar view.
“I always make it a challenge for each student to find 10 cans,” she says. “Every bit helps. It’s truly not about the contest.”
Her primary philosophy is the ripple effect; doing something good for one person may make another person do something positive for three.
“We need to keep sharing our stories,” Schoch says. “There are bad people, but I think the good wins. I see more good in people than the bad as long as we don’t become apathetic,” adding that “we can have a huge impact at a grassroots level, even the least of us, when offering what we have to offer.”
Thanksgiving, in particular, is a holiday representative of giving back to the community. Egan says that students who participate may get a sense of fulfillment.
She says students hypothetically think, “‘We’re donating this to people who don’t really get to have the Thanksgiving that we have,’ so it also makes students feel like we’re helping out in the world.”
Egan, with a trunk full of cans and a heart filled with pride, says that while the canned food drive is effective, students are still not witnessing the benefits of the canned food drive first-hand. Her idea of the food drive on a larger scale includes physically volunteering at food banks Perry provides to.
“I think it would be nice to have a day where we serve the community,” she says, noting that her sister has volunteered at Gleaners. “Take some school buses over to Gleaners and actually see the benefit of our actions and maybe that will get people to understand why it’s so important.”
Even giving only one can may be the matter of someone eating that day or not. Regardless, whether you donate one can or 20, the gratification of doing something good reverberates around a community like a fire.