In the main hallway of Eagleville Elementary School, next to a Mickey Mouse themed Christmas Tree, stood three large, open-ended boxes, overflowing with non-perishable food.
The school had decorated the boxes with festive holiday colors. The front of each box was affixed with a sign that explained the food was for the 17th-annual Lt. Patty Simons Law Enforcement Food Drive of the Salvation Army.
Judi Schmitz, Eagleville Elementary School counselor, who was credited with spearheading the food drive effort at the school, couldn’t tell for certain how much food was collected, as no official count was made.
“But, it’s heavy,” she said with a smile.
According to Schmitz, the food drive at Eagleville started when the students returned from Thanksgiving break. It lasted until the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League (PAL) collected the food on the afternoon of Dec. 19.
Prior to the start of the food drive, a school assembly was held to help the school’s 350 kindergarten through fourth-grade students understand the need for such a drive.
According to Schmitz, the food drive was in line with the 2012-2013 district-wide character development theme.
“The focus this year is empathy,” she said.
According to Schmitz, students consistently brought in little donations throughout the duration of the drive – a couple of canned goods one day, boxes of pasta the next.
A Community Effort
Lower Providence Police officer Mark Stead, who is also the Methacton High School Resource Officer, worked with Schmitz to organize the food drive at Eagleville Elementary.
“Lower Providence has a very strong relationship with the Methacton School District,” Stead said, explaining why the school has participated in the food drive for the first time this year. “Also, we thought it was a good opportunity to get the kids involved in a positive thing.”
According to Stead, the original intent of the drive was to make it a competition among the classes in order to encourage more donations, but the idea was quickly abandoned.
“We wanted to do it, because it’s the right thing to do,” Stead said.
Stead added that Eagleville Elementary was a pilot school for the food drive, and judged that the three, overflowing and heavy boxes of donations would likely inspire the rest of the school district to participate with the drive next year.
Lt. Patty Simons’ Legacy
On Dec. 19, approximately 40 third-grade students opted out of their recess period, in order to represent their school and greet special guests who came to help collect their donations.
The special guests included Lower Providence Police officers Dan McGuffin and Cherelle Cutting, Greater Norristown PAL operations director Brett Wells and Lower Providence Parks and Recreation employee John Simons, who is also brother to Lt. Patty Simons.
Simons explained to the students why their donations will go to the Salvation Army.
“The Salvation Army takes care of those that can’t afford to feed their families or themselves,” Simons said. “With your help, we are able to make that happen.”
He said that 17 years ago, the Salvation Army worked with the county’s local law-enforcement agencies to coordinate this food drive.
“My sister was a big part of it,” Simons said.
Upon her passing from cancer in 2007, Simons said that the Salvation Army renamed the food drive in her honor. He added that Lt. Patty Simons is also known for being Norristown Police Department’s first female police officer.
When asked how it felt to participate in the drive, several students instantly raised their hands.
“I felt really good, because I was helping others, sharing the things I brought with my family,” a female third-grade student said.
“It makes me feel very generous,” said one.
“I felt proud,” added another.
Eight Tons on a Flatbed, but the Need is Great
Brett Wells loaded the Eagleville Elementary School donations in a Norristown PAL van. He said that the Norristown PAL is a drop off point for food drive.
According to Wells, there are more than 35 drop-off points throughout Montgomery County, including other schools, private businesses, nonprofit organizations and the county’s law-enforcement agencies.
PAL volunteers sort and box the food, which fits on a flatbed trailer. According to Wells, PAL volunteers guard the donations overnight, waiting for the following morning when police and emergency vehicles escort the flatbed to the Salvation Army in Norristown.
He said that each year the food drive consistently collects up to eight tons worth of food, which the Salvation Army distributes year-round.
“Ideally it lasts 6-months to a year,” Wells said. “But, it used to last longer.”
Wells explained that as more and more families find themselves in need, the Salvation Army finds it increasingly difficult to make resources last.
However, commenting on the eager and willing attitude of the Eagleville Elementary students, Wells can see that the Lt. Patty Simons Law Enforcement Food Drive will continue to thrive for the next 17 years and beyond.
“This is great,” Wells said, “To be able to get more young people involved speaks to the future of it.”