GLEN ELLYN – Students from Lincoln Middle School in Berwyn joined students from Glen Crest Middle School in Glen Ellyn and volunteers from United Cerebral Palsy Seguin of Greater Chicago on Jan. 18 to follow the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr.
To celebrate the annual MLK Day of Service, volunteers from UCP Seguin, a charitable nonprofit agency serving individuals with disabilities, and the middle school students filled the gymnasium of Glen Crest Middle School, 725 Sheehan Ave., Glen Ellyn, and devoted their time to help fight food insecurities.
Together, they assembled 250 breakfast bags for homeless veterans and 350 weekend backpacks filled with food for students within the community who are experiencing food insecurity.
Sydney Nikley, an eighth-grader at Glen Crest Middle School, said service projects are important because anyone could be struggling, even someone you know.
“If you have the ability to help out other people, you should,” Nikley said. “It also doesn’t cost you anything.”
Julie Lerch, senior director of Seguin Enterprises, said the event was made possible because of a grant they were awarded from The Arc, an organization that advocates for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The grant had to involve youth, people with intellectual disabilities, food insecurity issues and had to take place on MLK weekend,” Lerch said. “It’s a very unique opportunity.”
Naveera Labal, an eighth-grader at Lincoln Middle School, said she discovered the opportunity to give back through her teachers at school.
“I like doing community work, and this [event] was through our school, too, so I thought it was cool,” Labal said. “My favorite part is probably giving back and also making friends with people from other schools.”
Teresa Schryver, an advocacy and awareness specialist at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, spoke to the students before they filled bags and backpacks with food. She told students that poverty and hunger affect a variety of people in different ways.
“Hunger is not something that just happens overseas. It happens in our backyards and in our schools,” Schryver said.
Abby Edelstein, an eighth-grader at Glen Crest Middle School, said she has always grown up with the idea of giving back to those in need.
“Giving back and helping others who need it helps me feel good inside, too,” Edelstein said.
Lerch said students and volunteers were exceeding expectations by filling all the bags and backpacks quicker than she had expected.
U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, and state Rep. Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn, also were in attendance to help fill the backpacks. Casten applauded the students for waking up early and taking the time to give back.
Lerch said UCP Seguin is always looking for an opportunity to lead a service project alongside UCP Seguin volunteers and those without disabilities.
“Hopefully the kids get to meet somebody with a disability so that they become more aware, more sensitive and more open,” Lerch said. “If the kids are in a position where they don’t have to worry about food on the weekends, they’ll realize there’s a lot of people out there not as fortunate, as well.”
Kenya Mcelroy, an eighth-grader at Lincoln Middle School, said the service event was not only a chance to help out those in need but also a time to work with people with disabilities.
Rita Anderson of Glen Ellyn called the event a great opportunity because it provides the chance for her son to give back to the community and feel good about himself.
She said it can be hard to find service events with a diverse group for her 14-year-old son, Tony Anderson, who has a disability.
“Just because he’s disabled doesn’t mean he can’t help in some way,” Anderson said. “I think that’s just so important, along with having students from Berwyn and Glen Ellyn. The two different types of neighborhoods coming together to do this project is awesome.”