Thirty-eight years ago an Oneida High School teacher saw a need for hungry families to be fed during the holidays. Through this need students learned the valuable and rewarding lesson of service. Now in 2017 the idea has become a tradition that alumni continue to remember.
Rhonda Laxton is a retired Oneida High School teacher who never thought 38 years later her idea would have become such a tradition at the school. Laxton saw a need to help families in the school system get some extra help during the holidays, and through that need she could instill the value of service in her students.
“I just saw a need,” Laxton stated. “It is really a two-fold system, families get fed, and students learn to serve.”
In the beginning, Laxton’s classes four classes only competed to bring in food, however It didn’t take long until the idea caught on. The middle and elementary schools also joined in and collected cans to donate. Then the idea transitioned to the entire high school bringing in cash donations that would be used to buy turkeys and other items needed for a holiday meal. With the school systems working together, enough food is always collected to allow each family to eat through to the next holiday potentially.
Although the entire school system has become involved, Laxton’s classes were always responsible for organizing the items received and often delivering the food to the families. Part of Laxton’s idea was to help students learn to serve, so ensuring they were part of the entire process was essential.
“It was never about how many families could we feed,” Laxton said. “It was a matter of how many families could the students themselves deliver too. One family will receive an entire car full of groceries. If the students don’t see the process through then the idea isn’t complete.”
Laxton retired three years ago, and passed the tradition on to another teacher at Oneida, Patty West. West believes the program is a great thing for students and families, however she admits she was a little nervous in the beginning.
“It’s a very rewarding process, and the students really remember it,” West said. “When I first started, I was a little nervous about running everything, but once I got a routine down I was fine, and Mrs.Laxton was always there if I had any questions.”
Since taking over the program, West has seen a lot of grateful families, and a lot of helpful kids. Just during her three years, she has students telling her how they remember one thing about her class, the food drive.
“Most families are so grateful to see all those bags coming in their house,” West said “The student’s love doing it. They always come up to me and tell me how they remember doing the food drive.”
In the program’s 38th year, the students of West’s second period class delivered food to 26 families. Each of the 26 families received a turkey, traditional side dishes and desserts, and enough can food and sides to carry through Christmas. In addition, this year’s collection yielded a record donation, from any one individual, from an anonymous donor of $1,000 dollars.
“I’m so glad this has continued, and become schoolwide,” Laxton stated. “It’s just a really rewarding two- fold system. The students remember this food drive forever, and I know families are grateful for what we were able to do for them.”