“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Those are words once proclaimed by noted anthropologist Margaret Mead.

In due course, a small group of thoughtful, committed students in Kim Madalena’s Community Collaborators class at Washington Middle School in Harrison did just that. Earlier this school year, they brainstormed the idea of a schoolwide food drive to benefit Harrison families over the Thanksgiving holiday, and it surpassed everyone’s expectations — including their own.

The class — a new offering this year at WMS — encourages students to “become empowered to use their voices to develop, create, organize, facilitate and carry out a community service project … utilizing research skills, collaboration, reading, writing, speaking and listening skills to work with community members and organizations through field trips, assemblies and multimedia projects.”

Students wasted no time in developing their schoolwide Thanksgiving project and to sweeten the pot, offered an over-the-top dessert party to the winning classroom with the most donations.

And donate they did.

The initial goal was 200 non-perishable food items suitable for Thanksgiving, but students at WMS contributed nearly 1,000 items, or, five times the original goal.

But this didn’t happen overnight. The thoughtful students composed an introductory letter of request to Harrison Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Kroog, followed by the creation of posters advertising the endeavor, and special collection bins for each and every homeroom in the school.

At the start of the drive, students personally visited Mayor James A. Fife’s office to present their idea and discuss the logistics of the endeavor. Just think about that for a moment — it’s not every day the average 13-year-olds keep company with a mayor, so yeah, this was a big deal.

Students then collected the items as they came in and upped the ante by offering double bonus points for select items — think instant mashed potatoes and gravy — in the final weeks of the competition.

Joshua Paguay, an eighth-grader, was one of the participants.

“It was so cool to meet with Mayor Fife and it feels really good to help families during this holiday,” he said.

As distribution day neared, state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz paired with Assemblywoman Eliana Pinto Marin and contributed 30 turkeys and full gift bags, loaded with additional holiday-oriented food items.

It’s important to note you don’t move 1,000+ food items, countless turkeys and gift bags around without a little help. The Harrison Department of Public Works played a big role in making that happen.

And, as 100+ grateful families gathered their items on distribution day, students took it all in.

“I loved everything about the food drive. This project showed me how to create something truly important for the community. I wish I could take this class for the entire year,” eighth-grader Shilah Olsen said.

In reflecting on the student-driven project, it was perhaps Madalena who said it best.

“It shows that one tiny idea — such as the food drive — can produce significant results in our community … and in our students.”

You can say that again.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.