Gruening students roll over hunger

Drive nets 2,100 rolls of toilet paper in a week


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Gruening Middle School eighth-grader Erin Dutton helps load some of the 2,100 rolls of toilet paper students collected during a weeklong drive to benefit Bean’s Cafe soup kitchen in Anchorage.

MATT TUNSETH

Students at Gruening Middle School might not be able to wipe out homelessness, but they have found a way to help soften the blow of hunger in Anchorage.

Eighth-graders in Vicky Otte’s fifth-period social studies class at the school recently delivered 2,100 rolls of toilet paper to Bean’s Café, where executive director Jim Crockett said the soup kitchen can sorely use them.

“We go through 104 rolls a day,” Crockett said.

Student Constance Caparas said the school-wide toilet paper drive was the result of the school’s Project Citizen program, during which social studies classes must study and try to address a social problem in their area. During a lunchtime visit to Bean’s a couple months ago, students learned that the soup kitchen’s resources —everything from coffee to toilet paper — is currently stretched thin.

“We decided this was a way to get a lot of people to help,” Caparas said.

Crockett said Bean’s is busier than ever. In the first five months of the year, he said patronage at the soup kitchen is up 34 percent over last year.

“We’re having to serve in shifts,” he said.

Student Julia Geskey said students wrote to several government and social service agencies to research the problem of homelessness. Then, the class came up with an action plan that they felt could help address the problem. She said the class decided the best way to fight the problem would be more government-subsidized job training coupled with substance abuse counseling for those who need it.

Geskey said the class learned that homelessness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand.

“If you gave them a job without the substance abuse counseling it wouldn’t work,” she said.

Geskey said she enjoyed working on the problem, and found the visit to Bean’s to be an “eye opener.”

“I think it really helps our school to know there actually is a problem,” she said.

Constance Caparas said the weeklong toilet paper drive brought out the best in Gruening students. From the first day of the drive, she said kids arrived at school carrying armloads of rolls.

“The toilet paper drive was better than we could have hoped for,” she said.

Jim Crockett said that with the increase in clients, Bean’s has had to keep a close eye on its bottom line. He said he expects the soup kitchen to go through 40,000 rolls of toilet paper this year — despite the fact the tissue is parceled out in limited quantities at the kitchen’s monitor’s desk.

“We’re trying to maximize our supplies,” he said.

Crockett said the café is always looking for donations. Right now, he said fresh vegetables, coffee (patrons drink 50-60 gallons a day) and cooking oil. And fresh bodies never hurt, either.

“We can always use volunteers,” he said.

Crockett said anyone looking for more information on Bean’s Café can visit them online at www.beanscafe.org or stop by the soup kitchen at 1101 East Third Ave. in Anchorage.

Julia Geskey said it was rewarding to work on a community project that engaged the entire Gruening student body.

“We got to help people and we got to raise spirit in the school,” she said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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