Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of attending a School Summit of the leaders of many of the schools of South St Paul.   We met at Angelo’s pizza. In attendance were 32 4th, 5th and 6th graders from Lincoln Center Elementary and Kaposia Education Center. The students were leaders from their classes, involved as student council members and student ambassadors. They knew that hunger is a big issue in our community and they were gathering to do something about it.Beth-Baumann-at-Student-Summit-2-10-2015-small

The students gathered to learn about leadership and to show their leadership. The group worked with South St Paul Mayor Beth Baumann and declared they would raise enough food for Neighbors, Inc. for MN FoodShare Month in March to equal their own zip code. This is no wimpy east coast zip code that starts in zero either. These amazing children decided to raise 55,075 lbs. of food for their local food shelf.

The group came together with the help of the South St Paul Mayor’s Youth Task Force led by the incomparable Deb Griffith. Three high school students attended the meeting and made sure the younger students had what they needed and that the technology worked.

Mayor Baumann and School Superintendent Dr. Dave Webb both presented on what leadership means. The attendees talked about the many meanings of leadership in their lives, from not putting up with bullying to not always going with what everyone else is doing.

Dr-Webb-at-Student-Summit-2-10-2015smallAt the start of the afternoon the students were asked why they were there. A few had come to see their mayor, others were there because of their student council or ambassador responsibilities, and one or two honestly blurted that they were there for the pizza. The important thing was that they were all coming together and that they were working on helping the people who are suffering from hunger in our community.

What stood out to me more than anything was that this was one of the rare opportunities to see a group where everyone spoke up. Everyone seemed engaged. There was very little shyness from a group of kids asked to sit with other students they didn’t know and a half hour into the meeting every student had offered their voice and opinions. They were active, enlightened and ready for action.

The students broke into group to discuss steps they could take.   Some of the ideas that I liked included these:

  • creating their own place-mats that visitors to Angelo’s and other local restaurants could use to learn more about MN FoodShare and Neighbors
  • using the theme of every day heroes to highlight student efforts
  • putting out plastic bags at their neighbors houses with information then coming back in a week to collect the cans of food donations
  • raising awareness through an event or events at a local grocery store

Hunger is a big challenge, but there is hope. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of getting to hear from some of the leaders of SSP.

Rick Birmingham
Neighbors, Inc.