- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

HATFIELD, Mass. (AP) - For the entire month of October, Lavery Greenfield, 8, came home from school to find several jars of peanut butter and jelly on her front steps.

Sometimes, the third-grader at Hatfield Elementary School recalls, there would even be shopping bags with peanut butter and jelly hanging on her doorknob.

By the end of the month, Lavery, with help from six friends from three other schools, had collected 1,009 pounds of peanut butter and jelly to donate to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts - four times the 247 pounds she collected last year when she did the drive on her own.

The idea came to her in fall 2013 when she and her family took a tour of the Food Bank on North Hatfield Road during a Family Volunteer Day. It was then she learned that anyone could start a food drive to help families in need.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is a nonprofit organization started in 1982 to provide food to people in need. It distributes 9 million pounds of food each year to local assistance providers that serve families and individuals in the region, according to Food Bank officials.

Lavery said she learned at the Food Bank that one in five children in western Massachusetts are not sure where their next meal is coming from, and wanted to do something to help. Also on the tour, she said she learned that peanut butter and jelly were some of the most popular foods that the Food Bank supplies.

“Peanut butter is really high protein, and jelly is a lot of sugar,” she said during an interview at her Chestnut Street home after school Monday, where she lives with her parents, Chris and Renée Greenfield, and her brother Nolan, 5, who attends Cloverdale Cooperative Nursery School in Florence.

According to Food Bank spokesman Chris Wojcik, peanut butter is one of the items most requested by food pantries and meal sites in western Massachusetts.

Once her mother gave her the go-ahead, Lavery took the reins. Her next step was putting a donation box in Hatfield Elementary School.

“I asked my principal, then we put it in the lobby, then my mom contacted the Food Bank to tell them I was doing it,” said Lavery.

Renée Greenfield said she and her daughter were taking a walk shortly after their visit to the Food Bank last year when they decided to do the drive for the first time. Once back home, Lavery wasted no time in getting started.

“She literally came home and drew that flier there,” Greenfield said, gesturing to a crayon-drawn flier on their kitchen table showing a jar of peanut butter, jelly, a knife and bread. To raise awareness of the drive, Greenfield scanned and printed copies of the flier to distribute at the schools and in the community.

Last year, donors could drop off jars of peanut butter and jelly at Hatfield Elementary School and at the Greenfields’ home.

This year, Lavery enlisted six friends: Smith College Campus School third-graders Oona Weaver, Lucia Bernardin, Vivien McAmis and Ursula Von Goeler, and Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School second-grader Lucy Hoyt also started collections at their schools. Lavery’s friend Sierra Learned-Miller, a fourth-grader in Amherst, could not collect peanut butter because of the district’s policy banning peanuts from the schools, so she just raised money.

The girls used the total of $280 raised to buy peanut butter and jelly from the supermarket - a task that sometimes raised a few questions from fellow shoppers. In one store, Greenfield recalls, they bought all of the Teddie brand peanut butter on the shelf. They also bought in bulk when they could.

“You know how you could buy big ice cream tubs? There were ones of peanut butter you could buy. It was crazy!” Lavery said.

Lavery said at Stop & Shop, the cashier “almost fainted” when she saw them pushing their cart down the aisle. At this memory, the bouncy third-grader giggled.

Greenfield said she instructed the girls to buy the healthiest brands of peanut butter, such as brands with flaxseed, and none that contained corn syrup. She said she had told her daughter that people served by the Food Bank need nutrition.

Wojcik said that what stood out to him about Lavery and her friends’ effort was that it was entirely child-driven.

“Nobody instructed them,” he said. “They felt that they wanted to help so they just kind of took it upon themselves.”

But Hatfield Elementary School Principal Jennifer Chapin said this charitable nature is not unusual for children at the school.

One group of students raises money and collects supplies for the Dakin animal shelter each year, and last year, a second-grade student raised money for pediatric asthma, she said.

“We’ve done a lot of community-service learning in this school,” Chapin said. “We really adopted being bucket-fillers and doing kind things for the whole community.”

Greenfield agrees that it is important for children to learn about service at a young age, and she hopes the work of her daughter and her friends will inspire other children.

“It sort of tells the story of the power of one, and that kind of ripple effect,” Greenfield said. “It’s a good thing to start young, and for other kids to see that they can do something even though they’re 8.”

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