iBerkshires.com

Florida Spruces Up Abbott School Playground

by Kathy Keeser
Special to iBerkshires
07:50PM / Friday, August 14, 2009


Photos by Kathy Keeser
Builders Monica Wissman and Butch Gallese wrangle a picnic table; top, Principal Heidi Dugal, right, pushes a wheelbarrow while teacher Lindsay St. Pierre, center, spreads chips.
FLORIDA, Mass. — How many volunteers does it take to move two giant piles of wood chips cover a playground?

Volunteers last month at Gabriel Abbott School found that it took more than 20 people continuously working with shovels and wheel barrels over 2 1/2 hours to complete the Herculean task of transporting the full 25 cubic feet of chips.  

Residents and staff worked hard to make to make the safety improvements to the school playground and were rewarded with a picnic lunch, courtesy of project partner Target: Hunger of Northern Berkshires, an initiative of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Northern Berkshire is one of two pilot projects with the goal of reducing hunger by 10 percent within four years and increasing food stability for residents in need. It's been working closely with the rural schools in particular to provide educational outreach.

Principal Heidi Dugal coordinated volunteer efforts and the partnership with the food agency. The relationship brought a lot of benefits to the school and town, she said.

It provided the picnic table kit, the bench kit, gardening tools, a wheel barrel, chicken wire for a plant tunnel, mulch, and barrel planters in the school garden, along with the food and drink for the lunch for all the volunteers and the prizes for a nutrition quiz game. Abbott School bought $400 wood chips.  

"It is important that we clean up the playground to make it safer for the kids. It benefits the entire school," said kindergarten teacher Sonia McWhirt, who spent much of the day repainting the lines for the basketball court, four square and hop scotch. "It was great to have a good crew of people out working hard all day."


Dugal serves up burgers to hungry workers.
In addition to McWhirt and Dugal, the 35 child and adult volunteers also included school staff members Alfred "Butch" Gallese, Lindsay St. Pierre, Traci Lucznski and Monica Wissman, along with Target: Hunger coordinator Kim McMann.

While many of the volunteers were shoveling and wheeling wood chips to the playground area, retired teacher Gallese, now a part-time physical education instructor at the school, and Wissman, a teacher's aide and parent, put together a bench and picnic table. Others worked to trim posts and re-mark game areas and, in the garden, to add plants to the new barrel planters and plant tunnel. 

After working all morning, there was a cookout lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs. To round off the day, Target: Hunger invited the children (preschool-through-middle school age) to participate in a new quiz game on nutrition. If they got enough correct answers, they could then choose a prize.

"This was a great opportunity to get out and talk about nutrition and good food choices," said McMann. "It also allowed the kids to show us how much they already know, which was a lot!"

For more information on Target: Hunger contact McMann at 413-672-1167 or kimm@foodbankwma.org or visit the Web site.


Left, McWhirt paints hopscotch lines; above, hunger info; right, attacking the pile.

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