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NHS exceeds goal, packs 31,000 meals for the hungry

CARIBOU, Maine — Members of the Caribou National Honor Society greatly surpassed their goal of packaging 27,200 meals for the second annual “End Hunger” campaign. Through the help of some generous sponsors, the high school organization raised enough money to package 31,000 meals on Feb. 5.

The packaging event was originally planned for Friday, Feb. 2, but was delayed due to the threat of a school shooting. The event was rescheduled for Monday, but hazardous road conditions postponed the start of school by two hours. Despite the setbacks, all 43 members of the National Honor Society were joined by teachers and volunteers, who together formed five lines in the Caribou High School ski building and started packaging meals at about 10 a.m.

Because of the delay, a church in Massachusetts donated $1,000 to the cause over the weekend.

“They heard we were put off schedule,” said National Honor Society President and Caribou High School senior Meagan Dube, “so they gave us $1,000.”

Altogether, Dube said the NHS raised $8,200 for the event, and plans on distributing the majority of the meals to schools throughout The County, where one in four children are going home hungry according to statistics from End Hunger New England.

Former NHS Adviser Kenneth Atcheson volunteered to take care of registration during this year’s End Hunger food packaging event on Monday, Feb. 5. Atcheson, who has four decades of teaching under his belt, retired in November to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous part of his liver. He said Monday that he wouldn’t have missed the food packaging event even if he had to come in a wheelchair. (Christopher Bouchard)

Dube said the biggest change between this year’s event and the first event in 2017 is that the meals are going to be distributed to schools as opposed to Catholic Charities’ Feed The County program. She added that Catholic Charities still will be receiving a few boxes worth of packaged meals this year, but that most of the meals are headed straight to local schools where they can benefit hungry students.

The NHS president said she and fellow members were in the ski building at 9:20 a.m. helping to set up for the event, and that they started at packaging at about 10.

End Hunger Co-Chairs Gabrielle Marquis and Ashley Matlock (both CHS seniors) were responsible for leading this year’s event, which involved getting in touch with numerous schools in the region.

Marquis said student volunteers were able to form five assembly lines (as opposed to the three that were formed last year) due to NHS having a total of 43 members this year.

“A lot more people are helping out this year,” Marquis said at about 11 a.m. “It’s really cool to see such a large [NHS] chapter come out.”

Matlock said her primary task with this year’s event was to write “thank you notes” to all the donors.

“We get donations from all over the state and country,” Matlock said, “and it really brings the community together.”

Matlock, like all CHS seniors in NHS, attended last year’s event, and said this time around has involved a lot more work, adding that there are more people involved, but that it’s a “great experience.”

NHS members Austin LaPlante and Grace Gallagher, both juniors, have been appointed as co-chairs for next year’s End Hunger event, and are looking forward to taking on the challenge of leading the event in 2019.

LaPlante said he’s been doing a great deal of “watching and learning” so he can prepare for next year, and that he’s noticed volunteers are able to package about 36 meals in five minutes.

“It was hectic in the beginning,” LaPlante said, “but we’ve all gotten our rhythm down at this point.”

Gallagher said the event is “much bigger” than she thought it was going to be, and enjoyed seeing how everything came together.

As far as topping this year’s total of 31,000 meals, Gallagher said they have some “big shoes to fill” and that she’s excited to take on the challenge.

LaPlante, when asked if he thinks NHS could package more than 31,000 meals next year, confidently said, “Oh yeah.”

NHS Adviser Shannon Sleeper, who started overseeing the honor society after former adviser Ken Atcheson retired in November to have surgery to remove a cancerous piece of his liver, said it’s “very exciting” that they were able to exceed their 27,200 meal goal.

“We went way over this year,” she said, attributing the success to “the generosity of communities far and wide that are concerned that The County has one in four students with food insecurity. The national average is one in six, so there there is a need in The County.”

Sleeper said that, with meals going directly to schools, students going hungry no longer need to pick up meals at food pantries. Instead, a guidance counselor or teacher can confidentially provide a student with food.

“It’s quite a production,” she said of the event. “Students have worked really hard to set up lines and were ready to roll in about 20 minutes.”

Atcheson, whose surgery was successful, praised Sleeper’s ability to advise the NHS in his absence.

“Mrs. Sleeper is doing an outstanding job,” said Atcheson, who volunteered Monday to register guests during the event. “I can not be more happy to have retired knowing that Mrs. Shannon Sleeper was in charge of the NHS. I have no worries knowing that Mrs. Sleeper is in charge.”

Regarding the surgery, Atcheson said he’s “feeling OK” but that life has not been without its challenges.

“Chemotherapy is challenging,” he said, “but I have wonderful doctors who are handling the side effects. It’s not easy. It tires me out, and it’s painful at times, but it’s doable and I’m very grateful.”

WIth four decades of teaching experience, Atcheson said Caribou High School and its National Honor Society mean a great deal to him and nothing could have stopped him from making an appearance Monday.

“I was coming here even if I had to come in a wheelchair,” he said. “This is very important to me, and I wanted to be here to support Mrs. Sleeper and the students, who are all doing a wonderful job.”

Atcheson commended everyone for continuing with the event despite a cancellation on Friday and two hour delay on Monday.

“I even heard on the radio that there was no power in parts of Caribou,” he said. “And I thought to myself, ‘What else will they have to deal with?” But they’re doing a wonderful job. It’s just marvelous.”

The former adviser said he loves seeing how happy the event makes both students and the people of Aroostook County who are going hungry.

“I fully believe in doing things for other people and support many causes,” he said, “but I don’t want to see a kid going home hungry. This is a good place, full of good people, and our children should not be hungry.”

Though he tried, Sleeper did not let Atcheson pack any meals due to his health.

“They won’t let me do a lot,” he said. “So I get to do the registration and take boxes apart or else they’ll tell me to sit down. I’m doing what I’m told rather than doing the telling. Instead of saying, ‘You, go do this,’ I’m saying, ‘Yes, Mrs. Sleeper.’”

He said the change of roles is “refreshing” and that it’s nice to see Sleeper successfully lead the event.

“It pleases me so much,” he said. “When all this happened, I didn’t worry about the NHS because I knew that Shannon Sleeper is an outstanding teacher and person. She’s a wonderful adviser who has a heart of gold.”

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