The Powassan and District Food Bank is getting a big helping hand to keep its shelves stocked as Christmas approaches. That helping hand is from the 250 JK to Grade 8 students at Mapleridge Public School, who are again collecting for the food bank with their annual drive. Their drive culminates Dec. 10 with the students forming a human chain from the school to the food bank at 250 Clark. Food bank coordinator Diane Cole says the students are bringing non-perishable food goods to their school every day, where it’s stored until it’s time to transfer all the items to the food bank. Cole says the students are creating a collection of mostly canned and boxed goods. Cole told The Nugget the food bank has seen a small uptick in the number of clients who need its help. At this time she’s not sure if this is a trend. Cole has seen the Mapleridge students form their human chain a number of years in the past. “They really get into it,” she said. “The day is full of joy and it’s amazing how excited they become. They also know they’re making a contribution to help people in need in their community.” This is the 18th year for the Mapleridge Public School food drive. It was started by Grade 1 teacher Tammy Simpson when Powassan Junior Public School and Mapleridge Senior Public School merged to form Mapleridge Public School. Simpson says the students are now in Week 2 of the three-week campaign. The goal is to bring in about 300 food items each week. “But we collected 420 items in the first week,” Simpson said, adding the sheer amount of food collected indicates how engaged the students are in the annual drive and their desire to help other people in need. Simpson said the food bank tells the school what types of food it needs and the first week focused on “cozy Canadian comfort foods like baked beans and soups.” This week the focus shifts to breakfast items. Simpson says the school can usually amass 1,000 food items during the three-week drive, but there have been past occasions where as many as 1,500 to 2,000 food goods were collected. On human chain day, Simpson says the students will start forming their line around 8:30 a.m. from the school on Edward Street and continue up to Clark Street, a distance of about 300 metres. They are all standing on sidewalks and each student will already be holding a food item as they form their chain. “The little ones will be holding one item in their little mittens and the older students will be holding two items,” she said. And from this point on the food is passed hand to hand and eventually given to the food bank volunteers at the end of the chain. In addition, the older children are also pulling food in sleighs. The school’s teachers are also part of the human chain and they’ll be situated at key areas of the long line. And all the while food is being handed off, Christmas carols are also playing. Simpson says there are also jingle bells where someone is sounding off what food item is making its way down the chain. The entire event wraps up by 10 a.m. and then the food bank volunteers give the students candy canes. Simpson says before COVID, the students also got hot chocolate when they returned to school but that’s not possible this year. Simpson says all COVID protocols will be followed during the human chain event, including the students wearing masks. The OPP will also be on hand to ensure the children remain safe. Motor vehicle traffic will be disrupted for only a few minutes while getting the food across the roadway from Edward to Clark. Simpson says the event has an impact on the children. “It stays in their minds and it’s a big special event,” Simpson said. “The excitement is beyond belief. When I’ve seen former students, they recall the human chain day and now some of their own kids are in the line.” Born and raised in Powassan, Simpson has spent her entire teaching career in the community. This is her final year organizing the human chain day because Simpson will be retiring as a teacher at the end of the current school year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that human chain day comes to an end. Simpson’s daughter, Gracie Simpson-Malek, is a Grade 7 and 8 teacher at the school and has helped her mom co-organize the food chain event. “We’ve been tag-teaming it this year,” Simpson said, adding she hopes her daughter will take over the event next school year. “Gracie took part in the human food chain when she was a student at Mapleridge years ago,” Simpson said. “Now she’s helping me with it and if she takes it over I guess you could say I gave birth to my successor.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.