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Students at Cornerstone Academy gathered together Thursday morning so children facing extreme hunger in Haiti could break bread.

By early afternoon, 10,000 meals were bagged, sealed and packed into a container bound for the Caribbean country. It took just less than three months to raise enough funds to buy the supplies.

Head of the Christian school and founder Michelle Jones said the kids were thrilled to be involved in the community service project. For nearly four hours, rice, dried soy and vegetables, protein powder and a vitamin mix were scooped into plastic bags and loaded into cardboard boxes on which students scribbled Bible verses, drawings and messages of faith and support.

“I love seeing these kids’ hearts and their eyes just open up to the needs of the world at such a young age,” Jones said.

Katie Hale, 9, had to work quickly to keep up with the full bags being piled in front of her scale. She said she liked rotating through the different tasks that morning. She said it reminded her of helping her mom cook.

Cornerstone was started in 2007. About 20 kids were first enrolled in an elementary program, which has since expanded to include preschool and kindergarten and up through the 12th grade. Jones said learning to identify and address the needs of their community is an integral piece of the student’s curriculum.

The school follows the ideology of “ teaching minds and training hearts,” she said. Children are encouraged to analyze their environment with the Socratic method, by asking questions and seeking answers. Their educators offer them the tools, then stand back as they learn to fill in the gaps themselves, Jones said.

About five years ago, the academy’s fourth- and fifth-graders visited Take the Next Step, a nonprofit that works with the area’s struggling populations, Jones said. She had spoken with the director beforehand and knew they were in need of more winter coats that year. The students weren’t given the same insight, however.

“We knew that was where they were heading, but we wanted the kids to discover that need,” she said.

Students noticed a lack of coats in a TTNS closet while cleaning it. The kids banded together and presented in other classrooms throughout the school, and by the end had amassed 500 coats to donate, she said.

“It was just so amazing, it was just above and beyond,” Jones said.

Each grade is assigned community service work at different locations throughout the Sky Valley on a monthly basis. Some groups go to the Matthew House, which works with families who have members in prison, the Regency Care Center senior living facility or the Sky Valley Food Bank, she said. 

Shortly after the start of this school year, the staff and students committed to nearly 10 weeks of seeking financial support to purchase materials from the Champion Group’s Feed the Need program. The Alabama-based consulting company assists organizations and institutions, including Christian ministries, with major fundraising efforts.

Feed the Need is one of Champion’s most recognized programs, according to the company. The food is meant specifically for children and orphans in one of five third-world countries — Haiti, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Bangladesh.

It was the first time students at the school worked on Feed the Need, said Emily Jones, 8. The third-grader said she tends to be a bit shy, and while working on the project she was meeting many new people. It’s not often the entire school gets together like this, she said.

“I feel excited to be helping kids in Haiti,” said Kyla Perry, 10. “We actually get to help out.”

She was working with two other girls in her grade, twin sisters Isabella and Camilla Mejia, 10. They were drawing on the boxes getting filled with the finished food bags. The three fifth-graders agreed it was a good time and the work was very gratifying.

Jones said the new fundraiser had been settled on halfway through the summer. Then, students started to learn about Haiti in their classrooms once Hurricane Irma hit this fall. They agreed it would be best to send their Feed the Need meals to the country experiencing such crisis; It upped the urgency in everyone’s minds, she said.

It took $8,000 to buy enough food to make the 10,000 meals, Jones said. Students and staff participated in a webinar with Champion, which also provided support throughout the process. Together they raised $25,000, which is about how much the school’s annual auction brings in.

Jones said the remainder has been used to hire a new science lab specialist for the school. Once paid, Champion sent the academy everything needed to fill the bags with food, including a shipping container.

“It was a really slick process, at least on our end,” Jones said.

Atticus Poole, 12, said he enjoyed working the different stations Thursday. He helped scoop and weigh and seal the bags of food.

“It’s just fun and good to know we are helping people,” he said.

The seventh-grader said he tried to imagine what it would be like to live in Haiti right now. He believes it would be very difficult to go hungry every day.

Cornerstone plans to work with Champion on another Feed the Need project next year.