Students pack lunches, write notes to aid homeless vets

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Daniel Lawrence, checks out brown bags with fellow kindergartner, Abigail Brock, to be given to veterans. The Detroit Enterprise Academy partnered with International Brown Bag Lunches of Love to prepare the lunches with food donated by students, parents and staff.

Detroit — Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, snacks, juice boxes and chips filled the gymnasium Tuesday at the Detroit Enterprise Academy.

The treats weren't for students. They were for homeless veterans in honor of Veterans Day.

Students stayed after school to pack more than 420 brown bag lunches in an assembly line set up on dozens of long tables. As a special touch, they included "love notes" of appreciation in each bag.

"They are very special people, and have done so much for our country," said eighth-grader Kaitlyn Moore, 13. "Thank you for all you do," she wrote on her note.

"They deserve something good," she said.

The school partnered with International Brown Bag Lunches of Love to prepare the lunches with food donated by students, parents and staff. The organization began with a one-day event in 2010 by two moms on a mission to feed the homeless, according to Diane Soulliere, CEO and founder.

"When you give, you receive back," said Soulliere. "It's a great way for students to learn that there are people in the world who have greater needs than their own."

Detroit Enterprise Academy is a charter school serving students in kindergarten through 8th grade. The school provides a "moral focus" curriculum throughout the year.

"We have a virtue every month, and this month is gratitude," said the school's principal, Chanavia Patterson. "So this event is a way for them to exhibit this virtue."

Eighth-grader Logan Brown, 13, helped pack sandwiches in bags.

"I just want to help those who serve and protect our country," he said.

Detroit Enterprise Academy students wrote notes to put into the lunches for veterans.

Logan pondered the circumstances that create homelessness for vets and asked, "How does a veteran even become homeless? They should get money and a home, or at least an apartment."

Parent Alesia Smith, who has two children, one grandchild, a great-niece and a great-nephew attending the school, helped donate much of the supplies.

"It's important to teach children at a young age what it means to give back," she said.

Steven Cox, peer support specialist for the Veterans Community Resource and referral Center at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit, said he is grateful for the help provided by the students.

"Veterans really appreciative the love shown throughout the community," said Cox. "By the students helping to pack lunches, it shows them we all can do something to help others."

According to Southwest Housing Solutions, the region's population of homeless vets has dropped by nearly half since 2005, when it was 3,596.

"Through a concerted effort to reduce homelessness among veterans, the number in Detroit has fallen at the start of 2014 to about 1,900," said Jamie Ebaugh, director of supported housing at Southwest Solutions.

International Brown Bag Lunches of Love estimates it has packed more than 9,000 lunches in four countries, three continents and at least 16 states.

Soulliere said students at Grosse Pointe North have packed lunches for the homeless, and Grosse Pointe South students will be packing lunches later in the month. She said the Community Service Club at Henry Ford Community College will be packing lunches later in November.

(313) 222-2296