Lincoln students enact Helping Hands Project

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Lincoln students enact Helping Hands Project
A student selling ice cream to a boy in a car at Lincoln Elementary

It all began when fourth and fifth graders at Lincoln Elementary School read the book “Free Lunch,” by Rex Ogle. The story, a memoir that won a national award last year, tells Rex’s tale of growing up in a wealthy neighborhood as a child of poverty, who ate free school lunches.

“We all became inspired to research some of the issues present in the book,” said teacher Andrea Barranger. “Some of the issues included a child who suffered from food insecurity and embarrassment around this issue, a family who really needed mental health support, and a time where they no longer had a place to live.”

The Lincoln students began to consider whether there were people in their own community enduring similar struggles. There are. They brainstormed what they could do -- and the Helping Hands Project was born. The project is really a series of much smaller projects, all focused on the goals of making life just a little bit easier for those in our community suffering from food insecurity, mental illness or homelessness. Each student was allowed autonomy to decide how they wanted to contribute.

“I’ve learned that a sad amount of people are food insecure in Washington and there are a lot of ways we can help,” said fourth grader Drees Cushman, who helped out by gathering food and creating food bags for students at Lincoln.

Fifth grader Olivia Boulay is working on a letter to the Olympia City Council to see what they can do to help the homeless. She plans to write more letters to local business leaders urging them to donate.

“I just felt like it’s really sad to see people sitting on the end of streets,” Boulay said. “It makes me feel happy that our plan might work. And I’m hoping to see what else we can do to show people that there are shelters available for them.”

Evie Palensky, a fourth grader, has a special place in her heart for the pets of the homeless or impoverished. She is working to collect pet food to donate.

Fifth grader Maxwell Cutts is working with a partner on a slideshow to educate people on what they can do to help support local shelters. He is especially interested in Quixote VillageOpening in a new window, a project to build tiny homes to shelter the homeless. He has also written letters to local businesses asking them to donate. “It makes me feel pretty good that I can actually help someone,” he said.

There’s really no end to the creative ways Lincoln students have helped those in need.

Fourth grader Ellen Cummings is working on a podcast about food insecurity. She’s also gathered 10 bags of kid-friendly snacks to distribute to families in need at Lincoln. Fifth grader Mila Dickey is collecting cereal and canned goods. “I also brought towels too, for people that need towels,” she added. And fifth grader Shelby Sever raised more than $100 to donate to shelters by running lemonade stands. She is one of many students who plan to continue raising money for charities by running lemonade stands over the summer.

Other students have been selling popsicles before and after school, collecting recipes for a cookbook to sell, gathering supplies, passing out fliers and even using their own allowances for donations.

“Most of the ideas were created by the students and they collaborated to make this happen,” Barranger said.

Teacher Michael Stine said he and other teachers are considering whether to make the Lincoln Helping Hands project an annual tradition. “In terms of what I see of student learning, for me, it's the value of serving our community,” Stine said. “Kids researched their own community and learned about it, from that decided on affinity areas, and went from there.”

He continued, “They hopefully took away how meaningful service is and can feel, which can be a lifelong value. This also fits in with Lincoln’s mission/values. This is a great example of project-based learning, where children can participate in meaningful, experiential learning at their own level and with their own particular interests. They see education as participating in life instead of preparing for life after schooling is finished.”

Support the Lincoln Helping Hands Drive by donating to one of these organizations: