SALT LAKE CITY — A homeless shelter is not your typical location for an elementary school field trip. But, for the Learning Center class from West Clinton Elementary School, this was exactly where they wanted to be.
The class, made up of second, third, and fourth grade students with conditions like autism and ADHD, visited the Rescue Mission in Salt Lake City a week before Thanksgiving as the capstone to a service project they had been working on for the past couple of weeks.
"These kids, lots of them have many, many problems," said Learning Center teacher Madison Hoffman. "They have so much that they can sit and dwell on: ‘Oh, I'm not a good reader and this takes me so long to read.' But there are bigger problems out there. There's always somebody out there that is struggling worse than we are."
That thought sparked the idea for this year's class service project - the making and delivery of hygiene kits to the homeless. On Nov. 16, the class welcomed the community to donate items for those hygiene kits, which they affectionately call "blessing bags." Inside, they put granola bars, toothpaste, toothbrushes, Band-Aids, lotion, everyday items that we may take for granted. After the two-hour donation drive, the class collected enough items to make 200 blessing bags.
For them, this project was more than just gathering and assembling hygiene kits.
"Because my kids are special needs, they don't make the connection lots of times," Hoffman said. "I really wanted my kids to actually experience handing it to the people they are helping, just so that they can make that connection of, ‘This is what I've been working so hard on and here is how it's paying off' by helping these people."
During the delivery of the blessing bags to the Rescue Mission shelter, the class made that connection. They also had a chance to put into action what Hoffman had been teaching them the past few weeks — the importance of treating everyone with respect and always being kind.
"I started crying when one of my kids sweetly said, ‘Happy Thanksgiving.' It just makes me feel like I did my job and helped them," Hoffman said.
One of the blessing bag recipients said that he appreciated the gift because everything he owned was stolen a few days prior. He also said he appreciated the kids' spirit and how they embraced homeless people.
"They don't look at you like an alien," he said.
Don Hill, the house manager of the Rescue Mission reiterated similar sentiments.
"It gives you a good feeling to know that either somebody has already inspired them, or they recognize that there are things that aren't right and they want to find out why and be a part of the solution," Hill said.