Hunger doesn’t discriminate.

By Jesse Mintz

Ask Maddison Hoffman what motivates her to give back, and she’s quick with an answer. Soft spoken, her passion overcomes shyness as she tells her story—slowly at first, then all at once.

Madi—as her friends call her—grew up with her mom. She remembers bills piling up from a young age. “Coming from a divorced family, money is a really tough situation,” she comments. “Single parents have to pay the bills for water and power and everything.” Madi trails off, her mind racing through thoughts beyond that of a Grade 9 student.

Most of all, she remembers hunger. There were the days when she would go without breakfast or lunch, having to wait until dinner with her mom to finally eat.

Now that she lives with her grandfather, there’s always food on the table. Knowing what it is to be without—“I understand how that feels”—Madi is eager to share. She brings extra food to other students because, as she says matter-of-factly, “no one deserves to be hungry.”

While not all members of the Yorkdale Central School’s WE club in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, share Madi’s experiences, they all share her empathy.

Kendra Helfrich brought WE Schools to her students seven years ago, and as she explains, Yorkdale is especially sensitive to matters of food insecurity in the community. With approximately a quarter of students enrolled in the school’s free breakfast or lunch programs, the focus on hunger and poverty allows the club to tackle issues close to members’ hearts.

Last year, in a massive school-wide campaign, nearly all Yorkdale Central students pitched in during the school’s WE Scare Hunger food drive in the lead up to Halloween. For the club’s founder, though, it’s about more than collecting cans for local food banks; she wants to give her students a better understanding of poverty itself. “In our community, we don’t necessarily have a large homeless population, but we do have people who choose between paying their rent and buying groceries, or buying new shoes and gas money,” explains the veteran teacher. “We want our students to understand that poverty has a million different faces.”

 

Informed and aware of their community’s needs, the club chose to donate goods collected directly to Soup Haven, a local organization that provides the school meals. To prepare, students asked the organization what types of donations were most in demand, before canvassing their neighbourhoods in the weeks leading up to Halloween to ensure people were prepared for their knock at the door.

Madi took the campaign one step further.

Twice a week, she would come to school early to help donations go full circle. Having already assisted in getting food from neighbour’s pantries to the Soup Haven’s stove tops, she then worked as a volunteer in the cafeteria, preparing breakfast and greeting students.

For the WE School’s club leader, Kendra, every opportunity to teach more about the issues tackled through WE Scare Hunger is one to be seized. Take the club’s visit to Winnipeg last year. After a field trip to the Human Rights Museum, the educator led the 13 students with her on the journey to a local soup kitchen, where they continued their education on poverty and hunger.

Between sorting potatoes and onions for hours at the Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank and learning about the support programs offered at the Siloam Mission, students on this transformational field trip were given a glimpse into the lives of those struggling with poverty.

Madi speaks fondly of both experiences, before noting her most memorable experience with the club. Two years ago, members collected used guitars from the community to support Siloam Mission’s fledgling music program. With the help of the club, old instruments tucked away in storage closets gathering dust, got new strings and a second life in the hands of people in need.

During their tour of the mission, Madi and her classmates got a firsthand look at the guitars being put to use. “[A man] came up to us and started playing something he made up on the spot,” recalls Madi, her smile growing, as she remembers the scene. “It was amazing to see his happiness. There was hope in his eyes, he had this glow about him.”

Connections like these are the end goal of the WE club founder’s work. WE Scare Hunger, sorting potatoes, preparing breakfast, these activities are all just stops on the journey to greater empathy and understanding. With her club now numbering at 65 strong within Yorkdale Central’s small population of 400, it’s safe to bet on many more connections forged down the road.

As for Madi personally—a young woman who has been giving back with WE since Grade 5—the lessons gleaned from her involvement with the club have already changed her perspective. She sums up her ongoing journey proudly: “It’s helped me grow.”

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