Instead of spending her Friday in a Southlake classroom, Jade Nieland was volunteering in Arlington.
She took two boxes at a time and filled them with canned vegetables, stuffing mix and other fixings to create meals that Mission Arlington will give to the needy for Thanksgiving.
“I really like helping and doing stuff for families and kids,” said Jade, 12, a seventh-grader at Dawson Middle School said. “I wanted to help the most families.”
Instead of conducting classes on Nov. 21, Dawson hosted its 10th annual Helping Hands event at which more than 600 students spent the day doing volunteer work.
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Principal Ryan Wilson said it’s a great way to kick off the holiday season.
“We take a day that would normally be wasted,” he said. “Instead of sitting back and having turkey parties we instead take 640 kids and send them on 13 different service field trips to 12 different locations.”
In addition to the 200 students at Mission Arlington, others spent the day at places like the Bob Jones Nature Center in Southlake, Bishop Davies Nursing Home in Hurst and Camp Summit in Argyle.
Back at Arlington, the students broke into groups to sort through donated food, unload trucks and more.
“It’s beautifully eye-opening for our kids,” Wilson said.
Seventh-grader Kyle Reynolds said being able to miss class and help people is a “double win.”
Kyle spent the morning with his friends moving heavy boxes of food and supplies. He said he was surprised about how much food there is and how many families are helped.
Last year, Mission Arlington provided 5,200 Thanksgiving meals to families — about 26,000 people. Volunteers and students from schools across Tarrant County help pack the boxes, including Arlington, Mansfield, TCU and the University of Texas at Arlington, according to Mission Arlington’s website.
Mission Arlington Director Tillie Burgin said she appreciates when the organization gets younger volunteers.
“They’re the best,” she said about volunteers in their early teens. “They want to work, they feel good, and they’re excited.”
Chloe Klonowski, a seventh-grader, could be heard across the street yelling “green beans,” as she helped sort food for Thanksgiving meals.
“I just like a lot of charity work,” she said. “You get to think about people other than you.”
The Dawson students ended their day with a pep rally to recognize all their work.
“In Carroll our biggest tag line is ‘Protect the Tradition’ and this is a tradition for Dawson Middle School,” Wilson said. “We’re protecting the tradition that is service learning.”