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Helping Hands: Video inspires Johnson students to feed homeless

October 15th, 2013 9:24 am by Rick Wagner

Helping Hands: Video inspires Johnson students to feed homeless

Sitting, left to right, Kyra Springs and Madison Ricketts; kneeling, left to right, Renee McKee, Courtney Rose and Madi Howe; standing, left to right, Grace Nelson and Tiara Sokel. Photo by Ned Jilton II

KINGSPORT — Less than two months ago, one fourth-grade girl watched an online video about helping feed the homeless.

That video sparked an interest that grew into a group of seven fourth-graders collecting food for the homeless, then the whole fourth grade, and now all grades at Johnson Elementary School.

That’s how Johnson Helping Hands is helping feed the homeless one box or can of food at a time.

“I just saw this video online,” said Renee McKee, a 9-year-old fourth-grader in Carrie Conkin’s homeroom.

The video was about people giving food and other items to the homeless, and it struck a chord with Renee.

“I told Grace and Madison first,” Renee said of Grace Nelson and Madison Ricketts. Those three and four others who overheard the conversation now form the core “officers” of the group, for which Johnson Family Liaison Debbie Moore serves as “manager. ”

Most of the other Johnson fourth-graders, a group of about 90 all told, have joined the core seven’s effort since then.

The donated items go to the Kingsport City Schools Homeless Education Program. Michele Wilder is coordinator of that program and met with the students to discuss their plans.

“It sounded really intriguing,” Grace said. “Sometimes, I just like to help people in need.”

Courtney Rose said the group already has collected “a ton of stuff,” and Madison said some students bring in food by the backpack or bag full.

“I thought that the more things we could get the more we could help others,” said Tiara Sokol, the only 10-year-old in the core group. Her mother made the seven girls matching T-shirts promoting the effort.

Madi Howe said the group may shift to a focus on toys and clothes around Christmas, while Grace said the group may do other projects to help raise money to buy more food.

Grace is making bracelets and plans to sell them for the cause at an Oct. 26 community fall festival at Johnson, sponsored and promoted by Food City. The Johnson parent-teacher organization also sought donations for the program during a Sept. 21 school fall festival.

“Now all the fourth-graders want to be part of it,” Moore said.

The effort is growing into a competition between the fourth and fifth grades to see which grade can collect the most items.

The Johnson Helping Hands is seeking items such as Ramen noodles, canned fruit, macaroni, spaghetti, pancake mix, jelly, toothpaste, clothes, deodorant and hair products.

The fourth-graders made posters on cardboard boxes left in the halls of Johnson for people to drop off donations, which as of Monday included peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and Ramen noodles.

“I hope that we get all the food that we collect to the people in the homeless shelters,” Kyra Springs said.

Moore said she’s been amazed at the community service and extracurricular spirit of the fourthgraders and all Johnson students.

Other activities in the school include a PALS program, in which students help other students with disabilities, and a garden club, which parents help along as volunteers.

For a link to Johnson Elementary School’s website, go to ? and click on elementary schools and then Johnson on the drop-down menu.

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