‘I know what it’s like to struggle’: MCC students collect and distribute Thanksgiving dinners to area families

Ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner were collected, sorted and packaged for distribution to 11 area families by students in Montcalm Community College’s American Political System class. Pictured, from left, are students Vivian Ridgeway, of Sheridan, and Emily Petersen, of Greenville; MCC Social Science Instructor Ken DeLong; and Emily’s daughter, Ellie Petersen.

Eleven area families were provided all of the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, due to the efforts of students in Montcalm Community College’s American Political System class.

Vivian Ridgeway, of Sheridan, is a student in the class taught by Social Science Instructor Ken DeLong. She led the effort to conduct a food drive to gather non-perishable items for food baskets and worked with Christa Jerome at EightCAP, Inc., to identify families in need.

“I am poor, so I know what it’s like to struggle and wonder if you’re even going to have Thanksgiving dinner,” Ridgeway said. “I wanted to do this to help area families be able to enjoy the holiday. Knowing they would have food for their family can at least help take away that worry for a day.”

Montcalm Community College student Vivian Ridgeway, of Sheridan, organized a food drive to provide Thanksgiving dinner to 11 area families as a project in her American Political System class.

Collection boxes were placed in various locations on MCC’s Sidney and Greenville campuses, and the students asked for donations of non-perishable food items such as canned vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing, boxed potatoes, French fried onions, macaroni and cheese and others. They also collected monetary donations and purchased a 20-pound turkey for each family.

On Nov. 16, the families visited MCC’s Sidney campus where they were given a box containing dinner items, as well as an extra bag of groceries and they enjoyed cider and donuts.

Emily Petersen, of Greenville, who also is a student in the class, and her daughter, Ellie, and son, Malachi, as well as Vivian’s daughter, Ivy Ridgeway, helped sort the donated items and put them together in the distribution boxes.

“This is a project that spoke to me,” Emily Petersen said. “We just want to help people in our community.”

DeLong is known for incorporating service learning projects into his curriculum.

“I am big on citizenship, and I try to pass along to my students that citizenship carries with it responsibilities as well as rights,” DeLong said. “You participate in your community in a lot of different ways besides voting. Educating and informing yourself is one of those responsibilities. Being informed is not just knowing what Proposal B is, it is also knowing about what is going on in your community.

Montcalm Community College students Emily Petersen, left, of Greenville, and Vivian Ridgeway, of Sheridan, sort donated food items that were distributed to 11 area families for their Thanksgiving dinners.

“Sometimes the only way to be informed is to be involved,” he said. “I like to call that civic engagement. Projects like this, when they’re dreamed up by a student, and they use connections that they have, build leadership skills, and there are a lot of ways for other students to get involved.

DeLong said being informed often simply makes people think about what other people do in a particular situation and helps them have a better understanding of others’ circumstances.

“It’s sort of a teaching moment,” DeLong said. “I like when teaching moments happen when someone else is doing the teaching and I get to experience the teaching moment.”

Christa Jerome, Manager of Self-sufficiency Programs at EightCAP, Inc., identified the recipients and connected them with the project coordinators. She said she solicited across the board at the agency for families who were in need.

“We really grabbed a cross section of individuals and hit a wide variety of households,” she said. “It was all about serving a household that was in need.”

Jerome said she is thankful for the kindness and generosity expressed through this project.

“They went above and beyond with what was collected to provide what they could to these households to make their time together less stressful,” she said. “It just helps take some worries away at a time when people want to celebrate and enjoy time with their families.”

Ridgeway said while the project was a lot of work, she appreciates the support and generosity of students, instructors, staff and the community, as well as area businesses that supported the cause.

“It’s worth it just knowing that we can help people in our community,” Ridgeway said. “It kind of gives me a lighter heart because I know what it’s like to worry about basic necessities.”

In addition to donations from individuals, Walmart supported the cause by donating a gift card toward the purchase of the turkeys.