CONWAY — “If anyone ever thinks a child can’t make a difference, here’s proof they sure can,” said sixth-grade teacher Kim Mathison after the entire Conway Elementary School student body participated in its 20th food drive to benefit the Conway Village Congregational Church (the Brown Church).

The K-6 Cougars delivered 1,136 pounds of food last Friday in a little less than an hour.

Postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for many youngsters this was their first food drive, and they were eager to do their part.

“It was excellent,” said Cathy Baker, administrative assistant at Conway El. “I honestly can’t think of a better way for us to start the day.”

“It’s all about the power of children aged 5-12,” Mathison said. “They pushed and drove this. They’re the ones who made it happen.”

She added: “It was so good to be back this year and to be working with the volunteers at the church again.”

Mathison and fellow sixth-grade teacher Peter Malkin, who founded the event in 2000, said their students take ownership of the annual event. The food drive started the last week in October.

“Our sixth-graders collect the food and weigh it each day,” said Mathison. Classes leave their day’s collection outside of the classroom each morning and sixth-graders collect, weigh and store it.

The Cougars set a goal of 1,000 pounds of food. In 2019, they delivered 1,067 pounds.

“To reach 1,136 pounds this year, it’s probably one of our best efforts,” Mathison said.

In 2019, with a foot of snow on the ground, the students and staff had to take a non-traditional route to the church, taking the long way by walking on the sidewalk onto Main Street to the front door of the church. The path was much shorter on Friday. Packs of Cougars zipped down the hill between the apple trees in the rear of the school and were at the church in no time.

“Watching the happy kids hand off the food to the sixth-graders is a high point for me personally,” Mathison said.

“Seeing the continuous line of students walking from the front door of Conway Elementary to the pantry door with arms full was an uplifting sight of how big an impact one school can make.”

Classes took turns delivering what items they could carry, beginning with the kindergartners and ending with the sixth-graders.

“Everybody did two trips,” Mathison said. “At the end, the sixth-graders brought over the overflowing boxes.”

This was Mathison’s 19 food drive, and she has a little tradition. “My class is always at the end,” she explained. “I want the kids to meet the volunteers and learn what this service does and the purpose behind giving back to our community. It’s a powerful image going from an empty panty to a full one. It’s like going from empty bellies to full ones.”

Malkin said there is an educational component along with helping the community.

“The sixth-graders go around to the classrooms each day and pick up the food before recess,” he said. “They tally the amounts (learning about weights and measures) and then announce it over the intercom. Everyone knows how we’re doing.”

Principal Jason Robert, who was participating in his second food drive at the school, loves this schoolwide event.

“It’s amazing, the willingness, the generosity, the kindness of our families and you guys being willing to go home and say, ‘Hey Mom, hey Dad, hey Grandma, hey Grandpa, can we donate some food?’”

He noted that over 1,000 pounds of food collected was "like a half-ton. And it’s all food that stays right here in Conway to help out all of our families who live here.”

Robert also had a surprise for Cougar Nation. They’ll be able to enjoy an ice cream sundae party next month as a reward for reaching the goal of 1,000 pounds of food.

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