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Students help stock bare shelves

Natalie Ferraro’s seventh-grade homeroom class may be small, but when it comes to showing the Thanksgiving spirit, they’re pretty mighty.

Ferraro’s students at Charles Henderson Middle School collected almost 70 cans to donate to the Salvation Army, more than any other class at Charles Henderson Middle School. And that’s no small feat, considering there are only 10 students — a lot less than most homerooms, which generally have 25 to 28 students, Ferraro said.

“You’d be surprised how many of them actually want to help,” she said.

The collection was part of a school-wide campaign that was part anti-drug program, part lesson in kindness and generosity.

The campaign to donate canned goods began during Red Ribbon Week, a citywide effort to teach kids about the dangers of using drugs and healthy alternatives to drug use.

According to information from a handout at the school, students at Charles Henderson Middle collected cans to show, as their Red Ribbon Week slogan said, “We’ve got better things to do than drugs.”

Students at the school collected more than 500 cans in a two- to three-week period, counselor Mabel Williams said.

The cans will be used to make holiday food baskets for the Salvation Army.

In addition to the canned goods, students donated enough extra money on Monday alone to buy eight turkeys for the Salvation Army for Thanksgiving.

Ferraro said her students were eager to give, in part because they could understand the need on a personal level.

“Some of them have firsthand knowledge of people who are unfortunate,” she said. “They really, really want to help.”

And local food pantries really, really need the help. At the Salvation Army, Director Kim May said she’s looking for seven more turkey donations to make 15 Christmas food boxes, which would include treats such as stuffing, cranberry sauce and fruitcake. Plus, they need the day-to-day food donations, May said.

“We always need the usual stuff — rice, macaroni and cheese, pasta, dried beans, canned salmon for protein — that kind of thing,” she said.

With the downturn in the economy, donations are a little slower this year, and the pantry is a little emptier. In fact, some regular donors have become clients, May said.

“Sometimes we’ll do three, four, five food orders in a day, so we always need the food,” she said.

May said she often sees one-parent households, senior citizens and homeless, from Pike, Barber, Bullock and Crenshaw counties. Even among those with very little, there is an urge to have something special for the holidays, particularly among families with children. Currently the Salvation Army has 93 children in need on their Angel Tree. About half of those children are not yet sponsored, May said.

Those who wish to adopt a child for Christmas from the Angel Tree are expected to spend a minimum of $50 to provide for that child. The Salvation Army will provide for the children who are not sponsored by members of the community, even though monetary donations to the Salvation Army have been slimmer this year.

May said the Salvation Army is currently accepting volunteers for their Red Kettle fundraiser, to ring bells and accept donations for two hours at a time. Men and women can both apply, and young people under the age of 18 can participate as long as they are accompanied or paired with someone older than 18.

At the Pike County Department of Human Resources, Director Florence Mitchell said the food pantry is down to “lots and lots of green beans and corn.”

Despite a low unemployment rate in Pike County, DHR has seen a 12 percent increase in families eligible for food stamps, primarily among the working poor, Mitchell said. Fewer donations make the need even harder to meet. The greatest needs in the food pantry at DHR include protein-based non-perishables, like peanut butter and canned meats. Mitchell would also like to see increased monetary donations and donations of canned juices, pasta, rice and other starches. She added that the donations received during the holiday season often have to last through the year.

“We’re thankful for the Christmas spirit,” she said. “We’re just thankful for the generosity of the community.”

Salem-Troy Baptist Association has been building its food pantry since last Christmas, when the organization of 34 local Baptist churches gave out 35 Christmas box meals. Since then, the demand has not stopped, and the pantry has served 112 families from January to November, administrative assistant Linda Adams said.

The group is looking for more holiday meal items for this year’s Christmas boxes — things like cranberry sauce, cornmeal, sweet potatoes and basic baking items — to give out to needy families.

“We are seeing more and more needs,” she said. “We accept most anything.”

She added that the pantry would accept donations of gift cards for more perishable items such as meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Also remember: The Salem-Troy Baptist Association is the local headquarters for Operation Christmas Child, which donates shoeboxes full of gifts to children overseas. This year, the association will send 45 volunteers to Atlanta to help process each shoebox before they are shipped around the world. This year, the Salem-Troy Baptist Association has received 900 boxes so far, and last year they received about 3,000 in total, Adams said. They will be accepting boxes until November 22.

“It’s not too late to give,” Adams said.