Trading freedom for food drive

Published 6:58 am Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Officer Mark Walski poses in handcuffs with Bill Kinney’s class who brought in the most items in the school Character Counts fundraiser. - Photo submitted

When Community Service Officer Mark Walski heard Ellis Middle School raised more than 1,800 food items during their annual food drive week, he had mixed feelings. Earlier in the year, Walski had promised the students at Ellis that if they tripled their food drive total from last year, he’d let the students handcuff him while he wore an orange prison jumpsuit.

“I wasn’t happy,” Walski said with a smile, talking about when he heard the news (although he was the one who suggested the idea in the first place.) “It was a good thing for the kids, to motivate them and get them bringing in food for the food shelf.”

Walski’s jailing was only a small part for Ellis Middle School’s annual food drive, which took place last week as part of the nationwide Character Counts! week, an initiative which teaches students about good principles.

Samantha Grunewald handcuffs Officer Walski. - Photo submitted

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According to Eric Vaughn, adviser for Ellis Middle School’s student council which conducted the drive, the annual food drive helps students understand the importance of helping others in the community, as well as showing good citizenship.

“It’s a good message to have out in the community that kids are thinking about this,” Vaughn said.

The food raised will go towards Austin High School’s food total in the Channel One Food Drive Austin Public Schools is participating in. AHS, which won last year’s competition by collecting 12,000 lbs. in food, will be pushing to collect just as much if not more this year.

All of the food the high school collects will be shipped to Channel One in Rochester to be weighed in November. As each high school collects food for their own local food shelves, AHS’s food will be shipped back to the Austin branch of the Salvation Army, to be distributed amongst needy community members.

In this way, Vaughn said, middle school students could connect with high school students and build character as well.

As for Walski, he dressed up in prison orange Monday during lunch periods, making good on his word to let students place him under arrest.

Sixth-grader Samantha Grunewald handcuffed Walski during the sixth grade lunch, after correcting him when he told the lunchroom Mr. Kinney’s sixth grade advisory period gathered 501 food items. It was 541, according to Grunewald.

“It was very fun and cool,” Grunewald said.

As for Walski, he’s already thinking of the next food drive.

“I think we’re going for 3,000 next year,” Walski said.