Missouri First Lady Parson visits Ozark, Mo. summer school students donating to local pantry

Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 8:29 PM CDT
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OZARK, Mo. (KY3) - A fourth-grade class in Ozark received a special visit from Missouri First Lady Theresa Parson on Monday.

The class works on several special projects, all part of Parson’s summer service initiative. Parson kicked off a year-long summer program called “CommUNITY Service Challenge.”

The group of Ozark students is donating cereal to the Least of These food pantry in Christian County. It has been exciting for the kids, but the pantry also said it is a huge help. Donations are down right now, but Least of These says the need keeps growing.

The pantry says May was a record month. It served more than 1,000 families, up 21% from May last year.

The group of Ozark fourth graders wanted to step in and help.

”The first lady has a challenge to students in Missouri this summer to do community service projects for their town,” said Ozark summer school teacher Rachel Hall.

Hall said students were immediately eager to help their community.

“When I kind of brought that up to the kids, they started out with all these amazing ideas,” she described. “We have lots of projects going on to serve our community.”

Students like Isabel Wilkerson eagerly accepted the challenge.

”I like that I can give back to the community because my dad’s a police officer, so I can follow in his footsteps,” Wilkerson said.

The back wall in the classroom is filled with the student’s ideas. They have several, including collecting cereal for Least of These.

”We are collecting cereal boxes, and we’re going to donate them to Least of These so they can have more food for people that don’t have enough food,” Wilkerson said.

No donation is too small over at Least of These.

”Donated food is down significantly,” Least of These Executive Director Kristy Carter said. “And the amount of food that we’re having to purchase right now is up. It has skyrocketed.”

Carter said the total of donated pounds of food is down by 17% this year. Meanwhile, the total of purchased pounds of food is up 66% from last year.

Now that school is out, she said the need keeps rising.

”July definitely will be a higher month for us because those families have no other way to feed their kids,” she described. “And it’s too expensive for them to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner for these kiddos who are home.”

Carter shared a memorable story with Parson during her stop at the pantry, a story of a young Christian County child struggling to get food.

”What do you mean it wasn’t your turn to eat last night? And he said, ‘well, my brothers and sisters have to take turns,’ ” Carter described. “ ‘Sometimes we don’t have enough food. And it wasn’t my turn to eat last night.’ ”

She said it is touching that kids, like Mrs. Hall’s fourth-graders, are giving back.

“It’s so important to teach that at an early age,” Carter said. “Being able to partner with the school and allow them to collect cereal, which is one of those items that we’re struggling to get because of shortages, it’s making a difference, and it will make a huge difference in the families that we serve.”

The class will also get a special treat once they reach their goal.

”We have a challenge,” Hall said. “I told the kids that they can eat in the classroom for lunch if they get their cereal as tall as Mrs. Hall.”

The class also received an award for their efforts during their visit from the First Lady. Students received t-shirts and several cereal boxes to add to their donations.

This is just one of their many projects, which is a fun time and a big help.

”Not only is it teaching kids about the needs in our community, but it’s also helping them to understand what it’s like to give back,” Carter said.

The class says they are two boxes away from reaching their goal. They also made gift bags for first responders on Monday. The pantry also says it is seeing an increase in seniors needing help these days.

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