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Record-breaking food drive
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Fighting hunger becomes more difficult each year as our county pulls together to help the unemployed and others living from paycheck to paycheck.

Girls Engaged in Meaningful Service, an organization of sixth, seventh and eighth-grade girls at Veterans Memorial Middle School, took on this challenge and brought in a record-breaking 5,095 canned food items this month - a marked increase from their first drive in 2007 with 2,000 cans.

Committed to making a difference for the less fortunate, GEMS dedicated the first two weeks in November to sponsor a school-wide canned food drive.

GEMS advisors Whitney Jackson, Ijeoma Johnson, Amber Keim and Melanie Tucker encouraged a spirit of competition as homerooms challenged each other to determine who could bring in the largest donation. Some teachers encouraged participation by offering additional incentives for their class.

"The success of the canned food drive is attributed to the servant leadership displayed by the GEMS club members and the supportive staff at VMMS," said Jackson. "GEMS members who were financially able led by example by making individual donations for their specific homeroom. Their enthusiasm and generosity provided encouragement for their fellow peers to contribute to the cause. Despite a suffering economy, we were excited to have our largest donation since we began the annual canned food drive six years ago."

The canned food drive ended on Wednesday, Nov. 14 with GEMS members counting and sorting the items into boxes of vegetables, fruits, pastas, cereals, meats, peanut butter and miscellaneous.

The sixth grade contributed 3,834 items. Joan Braswell's homeroom took the lead with 845 items; second place went to Amber Keim's homeroom with 569; and third place to Whitney Jackson's homeroom with 510 items. GEMS sponsored a pizza party for the first place winners and an ice cream party for second and third place.
The top four homerooms from each grade level participated in a Dodgeball Tournament.

One of Braswell's sixth-grade students Camden Wyman, led the school's spirit of giving by bringing in 44 jars of peanut butter, 10 boxes of cereal, 10 containers of grits and several cans.

Girls Engaged in Meaningful Service is active during the school year in several community service projects to include Relay for Life, Pennies for Patients for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Special Olympics.

Through these efforts, GEMS has learned that volunteerism is essential for the functioning of a healthy community.

Jack Vanderzwart, director of The Willing Helpers Food Ministry and his volunteers expressed their appreciation to GEMS members as they loaded the 15 passenger van with the donations. The Willing Helpers Food Ministry operates out of Solid Rock Baptist Church located at 8111 Brown Bridge Road in Covington.

"The reason we chose them as the recipient of our canned food drive is because they are the closest in the proximity of our school families in need," Jackson said.
The Willing Helpers Food Ministry serves families each week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Thursday night from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Those interested in volunteering your time or resources to this cause, please call Jack Vanderzwart at (678) 342-3434 or