FREEPORT — Laugh and Learn preschool teacher Wendy Marstaller turned an idea into reality 13 years ago when she inspired business owners, children and parents to pass donated food hand to hand along Main Street.
“I just love community service,” Marstaller said. “I wanted to get people out on the street as a visual for others. I wanted them to see that we are here to help each other.”
Although it took some time for businesses to warm to the idea, each year the number of participants grew and the human chain grew longer. By last year, Main Street was completely lined.
Marstaller said she was concerned about this year’s participation because of the economic downturn, but she soon realized she had nothing to worry about.
“People and businesses have been very generous this year,” she said. “And seeing the children learn about giving is great.”
She said an important component of the Hand-to-Hand food drive is teaching the preschool children the importance of community service and helping others.
“Showing children how to give to those in need is amazing,” she said. “They get excited to help, and know why we do it. It stays with them for years.”
After the food drive this Saturday, March 14, at 10 a.m., Marstaller said children and parents can eat, play games, buy raffle tickets and win prizes at a Cookie Carnival from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Morse School gymnasium.
Rachel Mills, administrative assistant at Freeport Recreation and Community Education, which runs the Laugh and Learn program, has been involved in the food drive and Cookie Carnival for more than five years. She helps collect raffle items and food from local businesses for the reception after the food drive.
She said despite the questionable economy, nearly 70 local businesses have agreed to participate this year by donating gift certificates, gift baskets and specialty items.
“It is great to see the event grow each year,” she said.
Along with other prizes, Mills said Azure Cafe has donated a $100 gift card and a parent has given an autographed Red Sox baseball for the silent auction.
Nicole Gagnon, child-care coordinator at FRCE, said the food drive and Cookie Carnival complement the nursery school program’s philosophy. She said the children are taught to be patient, work with others and communicate clearly.
“Watching these children grow through the school system and participate in this event each year is great to see,” she said. “It is so much like a family.”
Marstaller said there are decorated boxes for people to donate canned goods for the food drive at Morse Street and Mast Landing schools, and at Gritty McDuff’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Chaudier Cookware on Main Street.
“I never could have done all this without the help of Bruce, my husband,” Marstaller said. “My family, friends and co-workers believed in me enough to go along with an idea they never heard of and that is what made it all come together.”
Preschool teacher Wendy Marstaller displays some of the donated food for Saturday’s Hand-to-Hand food drive in Freeport. Parents, children and business owners will stand along Main Street at 10 a.m. to form a human chain and pass food along to the Food Pantry. (Anderson photo)