Highlands Elementary School helps with Meals of Hope

meals-of-hopeNoodles, cheese packets, and soy protein. The ingredients to create a Meals of Hope packaged dinner of fortified macaroni and cheese. Highlands Elementary School (HLE) students recently packaged meals for the organization, developing their teamwork skills while giving back to the community.

The school has participated in Meals of Hope for the past three years. Last year, they were able to package 26,000 meals in only a few hours. This year, they beat that record, packaging 36,000 meals. Part of the reason for their success was the addition of third graders.

“We’ve always let fourth and fifth grade students participate,” says HLE principal, Laura Mendicino. “But we expanded it to third grade this year. It’s an amazing opportunity for our students to work together and get an overall feeling of pride while giving back to the community.”

The students were assigned different jobs like scooping the noodles and protein, inserting the cheese pack, weighing the package, sealing it, putting on the expiration date stickers, and boxing them. None of it would be possible without the help of a team.

HLE is a Leader in Me school. This program teaches 21st century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader. Part of this leadership model includes synergizing with others, which the meal-packaging event is all about.

Once they’re packaged, the meals go directly back to the community. Many students receive Power Packs on Friday, filled with enough food for the weekend. In Collier County, these packs include the Meals of Hope mac and cheese.

“A lot of our students will go home on Friday and be able to say, ‘Wow, I actually made this,’” Mendicino says. “There’s just a sense of pride and ownership that comes along with this.”

Meals of Hope is in its ninth year of operation and continues to grow. This year, they’ll be packaging their 35 millionth meal.

“It’s amazing to see the support for our organization,” says Meals of Hope Executive Director, Steve Popper. “When you hear that some students come to school on Monday with their stomachs growling, you want to do everything you can. Every little bit helps.”

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