Hoover Elementary School student Andrew Morris helps unload a minivan full of food that students collected to refill St. Vincent de Paul’s food bank. pennell photo - Bob Pennell

Little (big) helpers

A passel of eager first-graders brought bags and bags of food Friday afternoon to help fill empty pantry shelves at St. Vincent de Paul's Medford shelter.

"We just wanted to help put more food on the shelf," said 6-year-old Chloe Hedgepeth.

The kids had read a story in the Mail Tribune about increasing food costs and critical reductions in government funding and food bank inventory losses resulting from recent massive food recalls that threatened to bare cupboards at local public pantries.

Actually, they saw the picture of Betty Burgess, St. Vincent's pantry co-director, looking around the charity's small, half-empty warehouse, said Dan Blaydon, first-grade teacher at Hoover Elementary School.

The school's three classes of first-grade kids spent three days collecting enough bags of food to fill three minivans, said teacher Dee Robino.

"They're so happy," she said.

Burgess was thrilled to get the wee ones' largess. The pantry had given out more than 400 bags of food earlier in the day, she said.

"We cleaned ourselves out today," said Burgess. "We gave everything away."

Jennifer Hedgepeth said her daughter knows about giving because she is a Sparrow Club recipient. Chloe, who collected six bags of food, has bladder and kidney problems and benefits from the school-based charity that raises money for families in financial hardship because of a child's disability or life-threatening disease.

"She understands needing help," said Jennifer Hedgepeth. "She came home and said to me, 'Mom, I have to bring food. There are people who need food.' "

Pantry Co-Director Charles Burgess had said in Tuesday's article that he was turning 79 today, and hoped for some stronger volunteers to help with the unloading.

He got his wish. He also got a chorus of "Happy Birthday" from the kids.

"This is really, really nice," said Burgess.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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