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Chester County Press

Eager to serve

01/15/2018 12:39PM ● By J. Chambless

Household items were donated and sorted at Patton Middle School on the morning of Jan. 15.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The spirit of volunteering inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King was overflowing in Unionville-Chadds Ford schools on Jan. 15, as full parking lots and jam-packed cafeterias showed how eager families were to donate their time.

While it's an official school holiday, King's birthday has been turned into a day of service nationwide, and in the U-CF School District, it's one of the most eagerly anticipated days of the year.

Instead of sleeping late, students at Unionville High School signed up to work at one of several activities on Monday morning. As 9 a.m. approached at Hillendale Elementary School, several high-school students arrived in the chilly cafeteria to help prepart peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fill snack bags, make chocolate chip cookies, and help children decorate lunch bags and make place mats. The lunches went to Safe Harbor, along with handmade cards made by children that offered messages of hope. In the kitchen, a vat of chicken noodle soup was simmering early on Monday morning, ready to be ladeled into containers and taken to a senior center in Avondale.

Michael Audevard, the principal at Hillendale, was watching the operation unfold smoothly thanks to volunteers and several years of practice at funneling the energy of everyone in the right directions. “The kids are always so excited about this, to get a chance to do something with their hands,” Audevard said, surveying the busy room. “It's one thing to talk about voluntering, but it's a whole other thing to get your hands messy with peanut butter or pack a snack bag that's actually going to feed someone who is needy. The whole community has been so supportive,” he added as families arrived at the door and children sprinted to their places to lend a hand.

At Patton Middle School, students and parents have been collecting items to help residents of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, as well as Family Promise of Southern Chester County. On Monday, volunteers of all ages, along with principal Steve Dissinger, joined in the school's cafeteria to sort, box and begin to deliver practical household items – sheets, pillows, blankets, towels and household items for adults – along with gift bags for younger people that contained cocoa mix, granola bars, microwave popcorn, puzzles, crayons and coloring books.

The donated items formed towering stacks on the cafeteria tables as people darted around the room, sorting and boxing everything for distribution. Handmade cards offering messages of hope were slipped into every zip-loc bag.

At the same time at Unionville Elementary School, floor space was at a premium in the downstairs cafeteria as families spread out fleece, trimmed the edges and tied the knots together to make soft, cuddly blankets that were going to be given to children experiencing long-term illnesses at A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital.

Principal Michell Lafferty said that as of Sunday evening, 240 people had signed up to help, but she suspected that more had shown up. Students and parents were augmented by local Boy Scouts, and three women who came from the Crosslands community because they wanted to help.

“The kids love it. They talk about it for weeks,” Lafferty said. “We have a coin collection competition, and the third grade won this year. For that, they got a pizza party that turned into a dance party,” she added, smiling. The money raised went to the purchase of the fleece. Any extra money will be donated to the hospital in June, when supplies traditionally run low.

Upstairs at Unionville Elementary, several families were making quilts on the hallway floors while one room was dedicated for making cards that went with the blankets.

At Chadds Ford Elementary, a project carries on all year with its sister school, Mitchell Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia. Over the last two years, families have supported the school with new books, uniforms and other clothing, school supplies, toiletries and backpacks. This year, students brought in canned goods and packaged foods for the emergency food pantry at Mitchell Elementary, as well as clothing for students and their families.

At Pocopson Elementary School, the MLK spirit will extend to Jan. 18, when families and staff members will gather to package meals for the organization Rise Against Hunger. The meals will be sent all over the world.

From Unionville High School, students fanned out across the community to help at Mission Santa Maria, His Mission, Project Cure, The Garage Community and Youth Center, Tick-Tock Childcare, Luther House and elsewhere.

For more information about Unionville-Chadds Ford schools, visit www.ucfsd.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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