This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Elementary school students from Soldotna Montessori and residents from Heritage Place, a continual care facility for seniors and the disabled, met Friday morning to add an extra special component to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank’s Thanksgiving food boxes.
The first-, second-, and third-graders worked with Heritage Place residents to color Thanksgiving-themed paper pages to wrap around the boxes, which are distributed to food bank clients and include items essential to making a Thanksgiving meal.
“We’re adding everything they need for dinner, and then we put these pages with it as like a placemat or a center decoration,” Greg Meyer, director of the food bank, said. “It just makes it more personal.”
Meyer said the food bank has been making Thanksgiving food boxes for families in the community for about 20 years or longer.
Heritage Place’s activities coordinator, Aud Walaszek, said students from Soldotna Montessori have been visiting residents at Heritage Place about once a month for four years. She said Friday’s Thanksgiving event was one of the many community projects the group does together.
“Today we’re focusing on adding some color and love and our well wishes to the recipients of the food bank,” Walaszek said. “The food bank generously provides Thanksgiving dinners in a cardboard box to those in need, and we kind of wanted to wrap that box in love. We are making a wrapping paper-type greeting card for those people.”
Walaszek said the residents participate in projects, both in-house, or through a partnership with local nonprofits.
“The activities department at Heritage Place has a mission of creating a nurturing environment and also to help each resident find purpose in their daily life no matter their circumstances,” Walaszek said.
Mary Nel Larson, the president of the resident council at Heritage Place, said her favorite activities are the ones with the kids.
“They want to participate with a lot of us, a lot of the time,” Larson said. “It’s a ton of fun. We have games with them and they have a good time doing that…They are so good to us. They are so polite and so nice. That’s what a lot of us need, just a little lift. We don’t get to see our grandkids enough. They take that place.”
One of the missions of Soldotna Montessori is to connect the students with the community in various ways. Jennifer Hubbard, a first-, second- and third-grade teacher at Soldotna Montessori, said the shared activities at Heritage Place have been a great opportunity for her students.
“We initially talked to the kids about grandma and grandpas needing a place to stay when they get a little older, and this was a great opportunity to try and bridge that gap,” Hubbard said. “We also talk a lot about community service and how we can be helpful to others so that we work together with these projects that benefit not just our class, but the residents of the community in general. We talk about what we can do to give back, and how you’re never too young to be a part of something bigger.”