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Kiwanis International teams with Penguin Random House to offer a children’s literacy program.

Story by Julie Saetre
Photos by Curtis Billue

It’s a big day at Pinecrest School in Annandale, Virginia. Nestled into a serene setting surrounded by mature trees and augmented with birdsong, the school serves 80 students, from preschoolers to sixth-graders. Today, 20 of those students, the members of Pinecrest’s K-Kids club, are on a mission: create food packs for hungry children in their area.

“This is my favorite kind of service project,” says Nicole McDermott, head of Pinecrest School and the K-Kids advisor, “kids helping kids.”


Food drives are nothing new for the K-Kids. They hold one each spring to help stock a food bank in need of supplies during a season when donations dwindle. But this one is special: It’s larger in scope and was inspired by the club’s participation in Read & Lead, a new program offered by Kiwanis International and Penguin Random House.

Read & Lead combines literacy and service by exploring one of five themes: bullying prevention, the environment, hunger, literacy and “Ordinary People Change the World.” Each Read & Lead kit contains a set of curated books relating to the theme, along with an introductory letter, a discussion and activity guide and a guide for creating related service projects.

The Pinecrest K-Kids are piloting the program and have chosen the “Ordinary People Change the World” kit. For the past few weeks, they’ve been working in four groups, with each group reading about a different inspiring person: Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall, Helen Keller or Jackie Robinson.


McDermott asked each group to answer four questions:

Who is this book about?

What are three important things about this person?

Why should we care about this person?

How does this person make you want to help others?

Club members discussed their findings with one another, sharing insights ranging from perseverance to compassion. For Albert Einstein: “He is a good role model for showing us to never give up on what we like.” For Jane Goodall: “She makes us want to help others by being nice and making friends.” For Jackie Robinson: “His story inspired other people to be brave.” And for Helen Keller: “For a while, she had no connection to her family, and there might be other kids out there who are like her and need help.”

Taking that inspiration to heart, the K-Kids descend upon Pinecrest’s art room after school like a constructive tornado, voices rising and swirling in excitement. They have a goal to reach: 75 “power packs” for hungry kids to take home on an evening or weekend. Each pack must contain two breakfast items, two lunch or dinner items, two snacks and two beverages. Thanks to club members’ persistence, boxes and bags of donated food are stacked in the art room.


The K-Kids dive in, unpacking the food into piles on one of four tables, then sorting those piles into categories. Soon, two kids control each table, and the rest form an efficient assembly line, grabbing a sealable plastic bag, traveling counter-clockwise around the tables to gather the necessary items, dropping off the finished pack and starting the cycle again.

In less than an hour, the final pack is completed, and the K-Kids count their collection: 123 bags of food, far surpassing their goal. 

“I think Read & Lead was inspiring to them,” McDermott says. “The kids who read the Jackie Robinson book said, ‘He’s reminding us to be brave.’ And I said, ‘Well, you have to be brave to help people, because sometimes you have to do things that are hard for you.’”

Lesson learned.

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This story originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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