FLORIDA, Mass. — The Abbott Memorial School community collected $1,120.50 in change for the Northern Berkshire Veterans Food Pantry.
"When I got the phone call from the school I had tears in my eyes," Tina Samson, veterans services administrative assistant, said. "To think these young students could think of the veterans and do something like this is absolutely amazing."
The project was led by eighth-graders Marley Miner, Ryleigh Rathbun and Amari Smith, who are part of Project 351, an independent nonprofit organization that fosters youth-led service by engaging ambassadors from each of Massachusetts' 351 cities and towns.
Change jars were left in each classroom. Collections were counted at the end of the day.
"At the end of the day, we would count whatever was collected. We kept doing that for like two weeks," Rathbun said. "... This community is really helpful and they like to help each other."
Second-grade teacher, assistant principal and Project 351 coordinator Denise Chesbro said this is the first time the group has worked with North County Veterans office in North Adams.
"These young ladies thought that that was a worthy cause," she said. "They wanted to do something and encourage the school community to contribute."
Veterans Agent Stephen Roy said he was amazed the school raised so much money in two weeks. He added that the funds will go toward resources that are often harder to acquire, like toiletries.
"This will go towards items that we don't necessarily get from other resources like toiletries, shampoos, toothpaste, things as simple as paper towels," Roy said. "Things like that can go a long way and really help out. We can't provide everything, but we can certainly help lessen the sting at the cash register."
He added that it also helps get the word out about the food bank in the North Adams City Hall that has been expanded to now include clothing.
"We can't go out and get a bulletin board … and this helps get the word out," he said. "People realize that there are resources for veterans and their survivors in need. That goes a long way."
Principal Martin McEvoy Jr. said the Project 351 students set the right example for the rest of the student body.
"We are very proud of these three ambassadors. They do so much to engage, not only the school community but the greater community," he said. "They are really setting a great example for the rest of the students, their selflessness, and their leadership."
The Veterans Services Department plans to throw a pizza party for the school to show its thanks.