Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Two Sendik's Bags

Each year, sixth grade students partner with the Hope House of Milwaukee for their service project, "Food for the Hungry."  Using their own money, they purchase food to be donated to the organization. In addition to creating grocery lists, clipping coupons, and shopping at the Mequon Piggly Wiggly, students also receive content-related instruction in their classes.  Lessons could include a unit on nutrition in science, the history of food in social studies, or the mathematics of poverty.  In English, students were asked to focus on a statement made by Ken Schmidt, director of Hope House of Milwaukee.  Mr. Schmidt helped us to kick-off the project by visiting on April 3 and discussed with the kids the organization and its mission.  While here, he stated that many clients of Hope House carry all of their belongings in two plastic grocery bags.  That statement resonated with me, and I was inspired to create a reflective activity.

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In class, students brainstormed lists of their most prized possessions.  They focused on items that were irreplaceable or held great sentimental value.  Then, I showed them two Sendik's grocery bags and reminded them of what Mr. Schmidt had said during his visit.   For homework, students were to pack what they could into two Sendik's plastic bags (or the like).  I emphasized that they needed to think and choose carefully, as they would have to leave everything else behind.  It was important for them to imagine that this would be a permanent decision; they could never go back.  Students used the following guidelines when they were packing their bags:
  • What holds the most meaning for you?
  • What can be easily transported with minimal effort?
  • What is a necessity (meaning you need it)?
  • What can you live without?
  • No animals!
The next day, students shared what they brought.  Not surprisingly, many packed nonessential items: a favorite jersey, a dearly loved stuffed animal, and a remote control car made the cut.  Some, though, considered survival and packed winter coats, hats, extra shoes, and water bottles.  After students shared, we considered what it would be like to make the difficult choice between keeping the stuffed animal or making room for a pair of gloves.  Decisions like these are made regularly by thousands of people each day:  Do I pay the rent this month or buy groceries for the week?  Should I send in the electric bill or get food for dinner?  After the discussion, students posted their reflections to Kidblog.

Students began to feel empathy for those whose situations required these difficult decisions.  Here's what they said:

"We are used to so having much stuff that we can’t imagine living in two small plastic bags." 

"I now know how it feels to have your whole life just in two bags." 

"I learned that doing this activity was not only hard, but frustrating, so I cannot imagine what it would be like having to do this for real."

"I learned that being homeless is a very tough challenge, and I want to help the cause."

"...I can’t believe that many people have to go through this."

"If you think about it, we didn’t have to worry to much about what we brought, but real people are faced with these choices. Do I bring my water bottle and food, or do I bring my photo book filled with memories? What would you choose?"

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