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Chester County Press

A day for giving back

01/16/2017 12:16PM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

With peanut butter sandwiches, fleece quilts and school supplies, families in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District continued the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the morning of Jan. 16.
On a day when schools were closed in honor of King's birthday, hundreds of students came to school anyway to give back to their communities for the National Day of Service.

At Hillendale Elementary School, principal Steve Dissinger greeted families at the door of the cafeteria before parents and children found their places at one of several stations. There was a chance to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and scoop snacks into baggies. There was a station where children could weave placemats and write personal notes on brown bags. The 300 completed lunches were destined for the Safe Harbor shelter and to the Catholic Social Services organization in West Grove. At one row of tables, children were taught to scoop out cookie dough onto baking sheets, which were then put into the cafeteria oven for baking. In the kitchen, hot soup was carefully ladled into containers for transportation to hungry families in the county. Barnard Orchards donated 300 apples to be included in the lunches.

One table held a huge collection of school supplies, books and backpacks donated by Hillendale students that were destined for La Communidad Hispana in Kennett Square, where they will be packed and distributed to needy children.

“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” Dissinger said, smiling, as he watched the students dart from table to table, eager to get to work.

At Anson B. Nixon Park, students from Patton Middle School were hard at work, collecting trash and doing some clean-up on a morning that was crisp but not cold enough to keep them indoors.

And at Unionville Elementary School, the school's first MLK Day project was a huge success. Principal Michelle Lafferty, who is in her first year at the school, said she was eager to join the school district's effort.

“We started talking about what would relate best to the children, and it was kids that are sick,” she said in the middle of the packed, noisy cafeteria. “They can empathize with that. The kids were really excited and brought in all these coins to buy these fleece blanket kits. We have a group going to the atrium at the A.I. duPont Hospital for Children today to drop the blankets off and take lots of pictures. We're super-excited. We hope this is what we're going to do every year.”

Every table in the cafeteria was full as families spread out the fleece and trimmed the edges into fringe, which was then knotted by hand. The floor was also packed, and the rooms and hallways adjoining the cafeteria were full as well.

“We bought 85 blanket kits, and we have some extra money donated by the kids this year, so we're going to purchase some stuff from the hospital's wish list and give it to them at times when they really need it, later in the year,” Lafferty said.

On the morning of Jan. 16, school district superintendent John Sanville sent an email to families in the district before heading out to each school to take part alongside the students.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to Unionville High School on May 2, 1967,” Sanville wrote. “That visit is our very real and personal connection to a man whose life embodied service, acceptance, and progress forward. … We are not yet three weeks into the new year and resolutions are still fresh and still have the potential to be fulfilled. Among those visions of better things ahead (in addition to fitness and dietary goals), mine include opening our arms – as wide as we can -- to embrace and include everyone in UCFSD.

“Today we honor Dr. King through our collective effort to improve and enhance circumstances for others not as fortunate as we are,” Sanville added. “It is also important to remember that within our own community there is room for change. When we can say that we are kind and considerate, that we share thoughts and ideas, and that we talk and laugh with each other freely and genuinely -- UCFSD will be the place where dreams are launched for all.”