Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 24, 2013

A rewarding lesson for West Middle students

The Andover Townsman

---- — A group of local middle-schoolers is seeing their volunteer work paying out big dividends this summer for the benefit of those in need of a nutritious meal.

West Middle School teachers Emily Thompson and Tara Brink have developed a reputation for showing students the importance of helping others and how to connect their lives to the greater world.

This past school year, they made the message real with lessons and activities about food insecurity in local neighborhoods. And they got some added assistance from West Middle’s school enrichment program in which residents of a senior living center near the school joined the students every other week to share experiences.

Together, two teams of 20 students joined by the visiting seniors pitched in at the Neighbors in Need food pantry warehouse in Andover. They collected and sorted food to help the organization prepare for the summer months when donations decrease and the need for food increases.

Neighbors in Need uses the Andover warehouse to collect and sort donations for its 11 food pantries that serve the hungry in Greater Lawrence. Last year, the organization provided food for 500,000 meals, which primarily went to children and the elderly.

At the warehouse, Neighbors in Need Executive Director Linda Zimmerman outlined some of the many reasons why people might be hungry. The group learned about the scarcity of quality food available to many people. They discussed the high cost of living in Massachusetts and the difficulty some have in meeting those costs. The teachers said the visit had an impact on the student volunteers.

“Most kids really haven’t thought about hunger,” Thompson said in a release. “They barely even have stereotypes about who might need food help.”

At the end of the senior enrichment program this year, the students and seniors decided by vote that their favorite activity was the food drive and warehouse work they did for Neighbors in Need because it made them feel really useful.

Anyone interested in following the example of the student volunteers at West Middle and helping the area’s poor and hungry may contact Neighbors in Need at or visit