EAST program continues yearly food drive during COVID-19

The EAST program has continuously been recognized at the national level throughout the years. EAST has hosted a variety of events and has created community-building projects. With this year’s COVID-19 challenges, students must find new ways to work on projects while serving their community. 

“EAST is a very project-based class and we always used to go out to other schools or go out to other places to work with community partners,” senior Edwin Orellana said. “This year we obviously can’t do that so everything has been moved to online which is not the same because we don’t have those same interactions with people.” 

One of the EAST programs’ biggest challenges right now is being able to engage students with their projects whether they are blended students or 5-day students. 

“With COVID, we have a lot of students that are on the blended schedule which makes it a lot harder to work on projects because half of our teams are gone and sometimes we don’t hear from them,” junior Haley Greer said. “It’s just really hard trying to work on getting ready to continue on with our projects while also facing the challenges of everyone not always being here.” 

This year, students are working on a variety of projects that not only help the community but also allow them to learn new skills. Junior Elle Reed is leading her project in which they are creating handmade masks to both sell and donate to families in need. Profit made from this project will go back towards the EAST program as well as for its food pantry. 

“A lot of our projects at this point are helping the students in the school and are also giving the students who are bilingual the opportunity to help out by giving information out to the community about available resources,” Reed said.  

Wooten’s Helping Hands is EAST’s food pantry and is managed by EAST students who strive to meet the needs of families. In past years, EAST has hosted two food drives, Thanksgiving and Christmas, to help serve families within the school district. EAST partnered with local non-profits and food pantries such as the NWA Food Bank to help stock the food pantry. 

“EAST has always been trying to help as much as they can in any sort of situation and this year is one that is definitely needed the most,” Greer said. “Our food pantry is the most important I feel like just because we have several families here at Har-Ber who are in need of help.”

In place of the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives, this year EAST is hosting the Shearing for Santa event. Students and faculty are encouraged to donate canned foods or money to go into the food pantry. This food will then be distributed to families in need during the holiday season. People who donate will also be able to vote for which haircut they think Dr. Griep should give the EAST facilitator, Mr. Mills, in December. 

“Shearing for Santa is a way to raise food and money for our food pantry,” Greer said. “This will allow us to be able to buy more food and give out this food to families at Har-Ber who are in need. Right now we know that our food drive is needed a lot more this year than it has been in previous years. Wooten’s teamed up with our social worker, Mrs. Keeling, who is helping us get food out to families who are in need.”

The EAST program is also working on projects alongside Spanish and Marshallese speakers to help create and infiltrate books in both languages across Springdale schools.  They are also hosting a Springdale EAST Conference in the spring in order to allow several of the local EAST programs to network with others and build relationships. With their National Conference being canceled back in March due to the outbreak of COVID-19, students are eager to bring their community together by hosting a smaller conference of their own. 

“Right now in EAST, we have our Tri-Literacy project which is working with the language academy,” Greer said. “We are also currently working on our Springdale EAST Conference. Our conference plans to help local programs come together without having to travel away for a few days as well as trying to get everyone all together in a safe way. We also have several projects that revolve around helping and changing up our EAST program curriculum. 

With new adjustments as to how the classroom works, EAST students are still given the opportunities to learn new skills all while focusing on ways to better themselves and their community. 

“EAST allows me to embrace my skills and allows me to have a leadership opportunity to do something great in the community and make a difference,” Orellana said.