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UCPS Gives Back: Marvin Ridge Middle builds a food drive tradition

Feeding families, uniting schools

The spark for significant change often originates from a single person. John Myers, a sixth-grade math teacher at Marvin Ridge Middle, displayed this when he launched several school-wide food drives to support Loaves and Fishes of Union County last year. The organization is a volunteer-based community food pantry program supporting local families in crisis. What initially involved only sixth graders expanded to encompass other grades after Myers shared the idea during a faculty meeting. With their enthusiastic support, the initiative evolved into a monthly donation drive.

Myers recognized the need for a shift in the frequency this year to maintain a steady flow of contributions without causing participants to get overwhelmed. Seeing the need for additional support, he enlisted a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher to help him gather the items and make announcements. He also reached out to other schools. 

"Every month was a bit much. Three weeks wasn't a lot of time. Some months were super supportive, and other months were less. This year, we decided to have six and reach out to Marvin Ridge Elementary, Sandy Ridge Elementary and Rea View Elementary so they could participate, too. They all agreed to do it," said Myers.

Marvin Ridge Elementary, through its PTSO, collected a significant amount for the first cycle of donations. Myers, going the extra mile for the cause, personally visited the school, joining the carpool line with signs that served as friendly reminders about the ongoing food drive. Engaging with parents, he greeted families, shared details about the initiative and encouraged their participation. 

"I know food support is a challenge. Each time we donated, the organization was so thankful. We planned with Tim Orrey, the organization's board member, for him to pick up the food. We filled up every inch of his van at least twice." 

Orrey was impressed with the amount of food collected and is happy that more schools are jumping in to help. He also extended his thanks for the consistent contributions, underscoring that these donations support Union County residents.

"It's amazing! I'm thrilled with what John is doing for us. He has become one of our biggest supporters and donors from the schools," said Orrey. "When I pick up the items, I can't help but get emotional. Recently, I had a donor who became a recipient. We never know where life may take us. Through this, students are bettering their community." 

Myers took the initiative to organize a turkey drive this year, distinct from the usual food donations, to also support the organization. The students and faculty had the option of donating a turkey or money. They provided 10 turkeys and raised almost $400 plus whatever people donated through Zelle, a direct bank-to-bank money transfer option. 

"The organization didn't have a Zelle until then. I spoke with Orrey and suggested they set one up. People rarely use checks anymore, so this makes it easier to donate," said Myers. "Our PTSO did a great job posting the information on their social media to help us get more donations." 

During the week when the food drives are in full swing, Myers is present during arrival, dismissal, and morning hallway walks. With 14 years at the school, most families are familiar with him, know his heart, and are eager to contribute.

"With my children, we've been going to Baltimore, where we moved from, for a mission week for more than 12 years," said Myers. "My wife is also a school counselor in another district, so we have seen hardship. I explain to my students what it looks like and why we should all be part of the solution."

Myers hopes to instill in his students a sense of empathy, community responsibility and a deeper understanding of the challenges people face. It also promotes teamwork while cultivating a spirit of generosity and empowering students to address issues like hunger in their local communities from a young age.

Molly Barnwell, a sixth-grader, likes being a part of the food drives because she knows some families do not know where their next meal will come from. She has donated vegetable oil, canned food and jelly. 

"This effort isn't a one-time thing because people needing food is not a one-time thing," said Molly. "If we don't do it for half of the year, then that's a time when they may get less food." 

Sixth-grader Miles Whelchel envisions helping others as a lifelong commitment, expressing his desire to continue contributing to charitable causes as he grows older. 

"Even though we have collected enough items to pack up a van in the past, we can do more and want to do more. I'd love to fill up two or three vans," said Miles. "Being a part of this makes me more grateful for all my blessings."

Myers aims to involve more schools for a more profound impact.