“Guys, I’m so happy we’re shopping for families! We’re going to feed them!”
That sentiment was overheard coming from a third-year Lower Elementary student Friday while shopping for the 14th annual Montessori Tides School USO food drive. It’s a sentiment that our school community can share because this year’s food drive resulted in $1,290 worth of food being delivered Friday to the USO Mayport Center.
The food the MTS community donated will help to feed almost 140 military families supported by the USO Mayport Center this holiday season. Pam Coates, the USO Mayport Center’s director, said there is a misconception that those in the military make a lot of money. While the military may take care of its own, she said that “families are extra.”
The center focuses on young families with children and also considers families in need on a case-by-case basis. The families who receive assistance usually have a service member who is in the lower pay grades, who has not been in the military very long or who has run into an unexpected financial hardship.
“It’s stressful enough being a military family,” said Coates, who has been a military spouse.
Before the students could deliver the food, though, the Upper Elementary students and the third-year Lower Elementary students had to prepare. They used the Publix sales flier to plan meals. They discussed how to make the most of the money donated by the MTS community, so even more food could be given to our military families. Miss Jess talked to them about the economy and about the USO, which is 100 percent funded by the community and supports all branches of the military.
The food MTS donated will be used to prepare holiday food bags that will be paired with $25 gift cards for a turkey or ham, Coates said. The center also has a giving tree with the wishes from more than 200 children in military families.
The need among military families was a surprise to the Pickett family 14 years ago. They happened to see a sign about the USO Mayport Center’s food drive and called for information. Dawson Pickett, then an 8-year-old student at MTS, decided to do something to help. Coming from a family with a history of giving back to the community, she started the food drive that MTS continues to hold 14 years later.
“It’s kind of amazing that it’s still going on,” Dawson said during break from working on college final exams. “I thought it was a great thing to do when I was younger.”
Dawson, who attended MTS through 6th grade, is happy the school continues with the food drive, saying that it would have been difficult to do once she moved on to high school and college. After MTS, she attended Mayport Middle School and Fletcher High School. She believes that working on the food drive helps to build character and teaches about managing money.
“That was always a fun part, too,” she said of the money lessons.
Dawson, now 23, graduates this month from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in industrial and systems engineering. She will begin work in January with BP’s project service department in Houston.
Dawson and her mother, Valerie Pickett, both credit the experiences at MTS with helping to shape the family. Dawson cited how Montessori allows one to learn in different ways, while her mother valued the parenting suggestions they received and put into practice, and the support Dawson had.
“She was encouraged by the school,” Valerie Pickett said.