October 25, 2014
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Toll Gate special education students lend helping hand
Beacon photos by Jennifer Rodrigues
EVERYTHING BUT THE TURKEY: The students worked quickly and efficiently filling bags with donated food, traveling through St. Peter’s Food Pantry with a checklist of food items families need for Thanksgiving, including corn, mixed vegetables, muffin mix, stuffing, gravy and more.

To help those in need, students from Toll Gate’s Special Education Department took a trip to St. Peter Church’s food pantry to put together donation bags for Thanksgiving.

Ten students put together 50 bags for St. Peter’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. The society manages the church’s food pantry and puts together donations for those in need throughout the year. The student’s bags will be added to the society’s annual Thanksgiving donation; society volunteers will be putting together more bags next week.

Traditionally, the society donates food to Warwick’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors program, Providence’s St. Patrick’s Parish and Assumption Parish. They also provide bags to families in need who call them directly.

Teachers and church volunteers were so impressed with the group that filled most of the bags in about 30 minutes. With help from their teacher Christina Metelski, teaching assistants from the program and the school’s nurse, the students were able to follow a checklist and fill each of their bags.

The bags featured traditional Thanksgiving dishes such as corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, stuffing, soup, gravy, fruit cocktail and muffin mix, as well as canned tuna, tomato sauce, beans and pasta.

The checklist also featured pictures of the items since many of the students are visual learners. After completing a few bags with help, many students were able to complete the work on their own, walking to the shelves to grab the food and returning it to a table where they checked it off and put it in the bag.

“Once we get them going on something and prepared with visuals, they can be almost independent,” said Metelski.

To make sure her students understood what they would be doing and why, Metelski began talking about it early and often.

“We started talking about it last week, and we put it on the calendar,” explained Metelski. “We briefly talked about Thanksgiving, having a feast and how that makes people happy.”

Metelski used visual aids to explain to her students that there are many people in need of food for Thanksgiving.

Students saw pictures of happy people at a table with food and sad people at a table with empty plates. Again, because many of her students need to use visuals to learn, this is the best way to get the message across.

To help prepare her students further, the morning of the field trip, Metelski went over the picture checklist with her students a few times. That way they would have an idea of what items they were looking for and how many of each.

The students also knew they were working to help others.

“We’ve really kind of pounded that idea into them,” said Metelski with a laugh.

St. Peter is also home to a special religious education program for children with autism called Autism & The Sacraments; three of the students at Toll Gate take part in the program, including Deb Langevin’s son, Joshua.

Langevin’s mother runs the food pantry, and Langevin is a volunteer. She thought the program would be a good community service project for her son and his classmates.

“They are more than capable of doing this,” said Langevin. “I just thought it would be a great idea for them.”

Metelski explained that working on a group community service project is new for her students, but something she has wanted to do.

“This is the first year I’ve done a whole group project,” explained Metelski. “One of my goals for this year was to get them out as a group volunteering.”

She said her students do have the opportunity to go out on individual projects or in pairs to local businesses or organizations to learn basic job skills and how to be responsible for a job.

Metelski said these experiences can provide her students with basic skills such as greeting costumers, social mannerisms and following the basic steps of a job.


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