FCN EXTRA: How the students of Lakeside Middle chose to help others this Veterans Day
The cafeteria of Lakeside Middle School in south Forsyth was a hive of activity Friday morning as hundreds of excited sixth-graders rushed here and there, carrying, sorting, cutting, building, measuring, writing and coloring.
But the chaos was prescribed, an intricate dance and act of charity as the students worked together to help out stateside veterans and brighten the day of military men and women abroad.
According to Lakeside math teacher and event leader Neal Daniels, this is the first year that the school has held a day of service for its sixth-grade students. But at the urging of parents and staff, they decided to give it a try for Veterans Day.
"It all came on pretty quick earlier this semester,” Daniels said. “Two parents came to us, and they'd seen how the students responded to the service work that happened last year and came to us with a vision creating it and letting everyone in the school be involved. They said, ‘Hey, let’s do a sixth-grade day of service, let’s keep it in-house, let's start small,’ but it actually got pretty big.”
Daniels said that during the two-hour event, more than 250 students along with dozens of volunteers and staff built and packed 50 care packages to be shipped overseas and 50 bags of supplies to be distributed to homeless veterans in Georgia.
"It has really become a community event," Daniels said.
He said that they filled the boxes with toiletries and other items that were specifically requested by the different armed forces.
"Anything that they need,” Daniels said. “We kind of listened to them, and we have specific addresses, so these packages aren’t going to a random place. They are going to a specific person that asked for these donations."
The care packages will make the long trip overseas to soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, Kuwait and Syria, he said, while the Northeast Georgia Homeless Veterans Shelter in Winder will receive the homeless veteran care packages.
“The students are also putting together letters to ship overseas,” Daniels said. “And hopefully those letters will be returned to the school. That will be a nice thing for the school and students to see.”
Sejal Chennuru, one of Daniels’ students, said that even if she doesn't get a letter back, she is happy knowing that she brightened someone's day.
Chennuru said that in the past she has done charity with veterans groups, but this event made her think about doing more.
"If feels like you are doing something good for your community, because for everyone to be helping them — for helping us, that's really nice," she said. "I want to help out more food pantries now.”
According to Lakeside Principal Kim Head, what Chennuru expressed was one of the reasons that they hold days of service in the first place — to help out the community, yes, but to give students a real-world experience practicing service in a way they can understand.
She said that even as young as these students are, they can still connect with the idea of charity and giving back.
"It gives them an experience that they don't necessarily get academically about putting their hands to work for other people," Head said. "It gives them that real-world experience that there is a bigger world out there outside of what they do every day as a student."