Nevada City school changes lives of the hungry with coin drive |

Nevada City school changes lives of the hungry with coin drive

Inspirational leaders throughout history have not only told the world what they wanted to change, but taken action.

Martin Luther King Jr. marched the streets of Washington D.C., Mother Teresa gave a life of service to the poor, and Mahatma Ghandi fasted for weeks to bring peace to an entire nation.

Nine-year-old Jackson Witt collected coins.

"I organized a school-wide coin drive," Jackson said. "I passed out these plastic boxes and each class collected coins for two weeks last month, and the money went to benefit kids through the children's nutrition program at the Food Bank."

“I really don’t know any better place to give the money to than the Food Bank, it helps a lot of people.”
Jackson Witt, 9

A fourth-grade student at Deer Creek Elementary School, Jackson and his friends gathered all of the coins, placing them in a wheelbarrow to count, and promised a $100 pizza party for the class that collected the most money. The winning class, though, voted to donate the extra $100 to the Nevada County Food Bank, giving the coin drive a grand total of $1,001.63.

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"Most of the boxes were filled to the brim with all coins and they were very heavy," Jackson said. "I was definitely surprised, we were guessing $700 max."

Jackson was first inspired to start the coin drive after watching the PBS Kids documentary "Poor Kids." The film explores the nation's economic crisis by following children around the country who live in poverty.

The movie, Jackson said, made his entire family cry.

"There was this kid he was playing football for a while and he was pretty good at it," Jackson said. "Then they went into poverty and he wasn't able to play anymore and he had to drop out, They lived in a shelter, and one boy, he's mowing lawns and they sold their dog just to have money to buy food to eat."

Jackson added, "I really don't know any better place to give the money to than the Food Bank, it helps a lot of people. They've been doing coin drives and giving snacks to my school so I just wanted to help them do that."

Before Jackson started his school-wide coin drive, he went into the Nevada County Food Bank to ask Project Coordinator Makayla Confer about the kids program. Jackson learned about project Helping Other People Eat (HOPE).

"This is a big issue in this community," Confer said. "We started the children's school snack program because a lot of parents couldn't fill out the paperwork, or the schools couldn't get the paperwork they needed to implement a snacks program. So we were approached by one of the teachers at Hennessy school and she was saying 'I'm buying these kids mid-morning snacks because almost all of them are coming to school without them."

"You can't learn on an empty stomach," Confer added, "so someone has to do something."

Nationally, one in five children in America struggle with hunger. Project HOPE partners with 14 different schools throughout the county, and serves over 2,000 children around 10,000 snacks a week, according to Confer. The program focuses on low-income children and also gives more than 4,500 snacks to kids, over the entire summer.

The group also places little plastic piggy banks in businesses around the county for residents and consumers to donate to HOPE. According to Confer, the majority of the program's funds come from the community, through fundraising mailers they send out twice a year. The program is also supported by The United Way of Nevada County.

"We are incredibly lucky to have their support," Confer said. "Not only in funds, but also in their volunteering efforts."

All of the money Jackson raised with his classmates will go to providing snacks and lunches to students throughout Nevada County, Confer said.

The winning class alone raised enough to buy 100 lunches for kids throughout this summer.

"It's incredibly amazing to see something started by a fourth grader, to have the impact that it has had," Confer said. "He's my little celebrity."

Jamie Hogenson, Jackson's mother, said that her son's coin drive was not just a charitable act, but something that spoke to his character as a young man.

"I am super proud that he's, first of all, just kind of mature enough to realize that there's problems in his own community and be compassionate about that and feel that compassion," Hogenson said. "The fact that he said, 'I can't just ask people to take action if I'm not going to do something.' I'm proud of him."

Competing in a county-wide speech competition Tuesday at the Nevada Theatre, Jackson decided to write about the kids he watched in the documentary, and the coin drive he organized to help them, in his speech, "One Wish for America."

"Since my one wish for America is to tell you that childhood poverty in America is real, hoping to inspire action, I decided to take action myself," Jackson recited. "There are many ways to help and I encourage each and every one of you to find out how you can help,"

Continuing to recite his speech, Jackson said, "I organized a school-wide coin drive which I called the coin war, in which the students of Deer Creek brought in spare change to class to help kids like the ones I talked about. We raised over 900 dollars. … Isn't it amazing what kids can do? As the great Dr. Seuss once said, 'A person is a person no matter how small.'"

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email or call 530-477-4236.

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