On a row of tables draped in yellow, red, and orange tablecloths, bags of canned and boxed food awaited distribution. Students, donning gloves and shirts identifying their affiliation with Gary Area Career Center’s early childhood education or culinary arts program, stood behind the tables. It was the center’s first Thanksgiving food drive, and they were ready to serve. 

When asked to participate in the drive, senior Lakeya Williams responded with eagerness.

“I was like, ‘Yes, of course,’ because this is something that’s really good to do,” she said.

As the Thanksgiving holiday nears, the halls of Gary Area Career Center transformed into a hub of giving and benevolence. On Tuesday, students distributed bags of food to Gary residents. The event was especially meaningful during a holiday traditionally known for food and feasting.

However, the food drive was more than a seasonal act of charity — it also addressed a broader societal issue. Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture data reveals a stark reality: In 2022, nearly 23% of Black Americans lived in food-insecure households, with Black individuals facing almost triple the risk of hunger than white people.

Selena Bradley, lead counselor for the Gary Community School Corporation, spearheaded the drive, sharing the service idea with early childhood education teacher Tina Campbell and culinary arts teacher Latoria Williams. Together, they secured donations from Strack & Van Til, Costco, Albanese, and Sodexo, and with their students’ help, they sorted, packaged, and handed out items. There was also a schoolwide contest to award students who brought in the most donations.

Throughout the morning, dozens of Gary residents filtered through the center’s auditorium. Students were actively engaged everywhere, welcoming attendees at the door and running a DJ station. 

Early childhood education students gather for a photo at Gary Area Career Center during their Thanksgiving food drive on Nov. 14. (Maddy Franklin/Capital B)

Down the hall, the sounds of classic and new hits from artists like Soulja Boy, Drake, Rihanna, Coi Leray, and Kendrick Lamar rang out. Students danced and sang along with as much energy as they could muster early in the morning. 

Senior Jade Brown, one of the most involved students in the drive, offered her help wherever needed. She described the drive as wonderful, highlighting its role in providing for community members in need.

Bradley wanted to instill the importance of giving back in her students, hoping they would continue serving others long after graduation. Campbell expressed pride in her students, who she said were a blessing, much like the food drive itself. She believed that organizing the drive underscored the Biblical adage, “It’s better to give than to receive.”

That’s a proverb Jai Kevin Thomas, the center’s radio and television production teacher, knows well. In addition to teaching, Thomas serves as the assistant director of Operation Care, a food pantry in Griffith, and he advised Bradley on how to coordinate the drive. He said he believed that while the drive was necessary for the community, it would be more beneficial for the students.

“You’re showing the kids that you can do big things with a little bit of effort,” Thomas said.

By the end of the drive, most of the bags had been picked up. Bradley said she was glad that people were able to receive food and even win a few raffle prizes. The students were, too, as they grabbed leftover snacks before continuing the rest of the day — a small present for their service.