A silver anniversary is kind of a big deal when you’re 6 years old.
The kids who go to Longwood Elementary School don’t know firsthand what happened a quarter-century ago, of course. Some of the adults who work there do, certainly — and what continues to happen at the northwest Naperville school is pretty impressive.
An all-school spirit assembly Thursday morning celebrated the kickoff of a monthlong, building-wide “giving” theme, as well as the school’s 25th yearly food drive to benefit the Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry. Numerous area schools do collection campaigns for the pantry, which continues to help feed unprecedented numbers of struggling families in and around Naperville. But Longwood has done it the longest.
Some bigwigs came out to help with the launch.
Mayor A. George Pradel’s enthused opening remarks noted that, over the past 25 years, the school’s families have done a lot of good work, donating 2,000 items every year.
“Now everybody has food on their table,” said the mayor, telling the kids they help make Naperville a better place. “You’ve reached out and been giving and so kind.”
Indian Prairie School District 204 Superintendent Kathy Birkett also commended the group on 25 years of generosity, wishing them another 25 to come — and using a stage whisper to tell the gathered children that Longwood is one of her favorites.
“What a great kickoff!” the cheery administrator said.
The thing is, Longwood really is kind of The Little School That Could. Its student head count makes it one of the smaller schools in the 33-campus district. And it was clear to me that taken together, its families have a really big heart.
“I think we have a nice small community here, a giving community,” said Linda Boddy, a 25-year faculty member and 10-year-or-so food drive coordinator who teaches accelerated math and runs the school’s gifted program.
That felt evident as I sat in the crowd Thursday morning, surrounded by proud parents whose kids received recognition and awards during the assembly. Some brought balloons and other tokens, and many were snapping pictures.
They weren’t just making nice for the cameras.
“The special feel-good about this story is that many families are now facing financial hardships,” said Jody Bender, director of community engagement for Loaves & Fishes, in an email. “But they still contribute more than 2,000 items each year.”
This year, the goal is 3,000 items by March 21.
I find that so very sweet and poignant, given that Longwood has its share of families who are struggling. Some of them turn to Loaves & Fishes for food to put on their own tables.
According to the 2013 school report card from the Illinois State Board of Education, 62.6 percent of Longwood’s kids live in homes with incomes low enough to call for public aid to help them meet the expenses of food and shelter. That’s more than three times the districtwide figure of 19.1 percent. The yearly snapshot also shows 3.6 percent of the students are homeless, by far the highest rate in District 204.
Sure, the rubber bracelets — the ones that read, “Longwood + Loaves & Fishes = (heart) x 25” — give great acknowledgement and encouragement for this year’s food drive. The kids all got them, and so did many of the grown-ups.
But I have a hunch they would take part in the giving anyway.