By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Dedication and a determination to surpass last year’s count spurred Fordson High School students to collect 24,371 non-perishable food items for Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan.
Teacher Fatmeh Rida said since that Oct. 20 students have distributed fliers, canvassed neighborhoods, approached local businesses and challenged peers with classroom competitions to collect shelf-stable food and monetary donations.
“I have a really high level of dedicated kids this year that see the benefit of this project and they are willing to put in a lot of their time toward organizing it,” Rida said.
She said her students amazed their Gleaners contact last year with the volume of food collected.
“Last year the guy that came to pick them up told me that he’d never collected this amount from any school, ever, in the history of him doing it, and he’s been doing it for a couple of decades,” Rida said. “So that was something really positive for the kids to hear from him.”
Rida said she believes when teens get the opportunity to volunteer to help others they will respond wholeheartedly.
“I think that we downplay just how much kids can do,” Rida said. “But when you give them the freedom to make these decisions and organize and to plan, you will be astounded at how much they want to do it.”
She said her student teams pushed onward toward their goal even when she urged them to take a break, and they surpassed last year’s collection of 15,000 items by more than 9,000 units.
She said they leveraged social media as well as the strong attendance at home games during their winning football season to increase public awareness of the food drive.
“It’s not so much the idea of the number goal, but it is the sense of accomplishment they have that we set a goal for ourselves and as a team, as a family, we reached that goal,” Rida said. “And I think that is what makes me have the most pride, because these kids have given up so much of their free time to do this.”
Angela Bazzi, 16, said the caring nature of fellow students shows in the volume of food items donated.
“A lot of people are getting helped,” Bazzi said. “You help people in need and it makes you feel good about yourself.”
Ali Fakh, 15, said he feels a sense of accomplishment when he thinks about the difference their food donations will make for the intended recipients.
“Our expectations were higher than last year,” Fakh said. “I thought of the people that we would make a difference for, and that is what kept me going.”
Muhammad Nassar, 17, said he remembers feeding homeless people with his father during the winter in a park in Detroit when he was 10, a memory that spurred him on during this food drive. He said he is encouraged that the donated food will make a difference to so many people in need.
Mariam Sareini, 17, said she is amazed and thankful for how much food they collected, and by the generosity of people when they went door-to-door on Saturday mornings.
“They were all very giving,” Sareini said. “Sometimes they gave us monetary donations. They were all very generous. We got a lot of cans from the neighborhood collections.”
She said residents gave the students positive feedback during the door-to-door part of the food drive, which was heartwarming when the temperatures dipped.
“It was very cold outside. I remember my hands getting so numb,” Sareini said. “But it was worth it. We got a lot of cans.”
Sareini said they also have a successful classroom competition: the teacher whose students donate the most cans will receive a $300 classroom makeover.
Abbas Hamade, 17, said his language arts teacher has said if his class wins the can count he will donate the makeover cash prize to Gleaners.
Hamade hopes his younger sister and brother continue the family tradition and volunteer their time to the food drive after he graduates.
Hayat Dabaja, 17, hopes the donations create some happiness at Thanksgiving in the homes of the less fortunate. She said she is pleased the community was so supportive of the food drive. She said it helped when Fordson’s football team was in the playoffs that they could collect canned foods at the well-attended games.
“I really like the fact that Fordson does this, because not a lot of schools do this,” Dabaja said. “And not a lot of schools raise money and cans and food for the poor for Thanksgiving.”