This article was originally published on Dec. 25, 2017. It has been updated with new artwork.

Students in Delano, N.J. have partnered with the Knights of Columbus for well over 20 years to collect food for struggling local families during the Christmas season.

This year is no different, with students at M. Joan Pearson Elementary and Walnut Street Elementary hauling in more than 2,163 cans through early December, an annual exercise guidance counselor Allison Donnelly said helps youngsters develop community spirit and strong character virtues like compassion.

“It helps them give back, and then it helps them realize that there are other people in their community, maybe their next-door neighbors, that do need a little more assistance,” Donnelly told the Burlington County Times.

Donnelly explained that the district focuses on building character in students by promoting a good character trait every month, and the annual food drive fits well with December’s theme of compassion.

“It’s the holidays and we should be helping. And our student character trait this month is actually compassion and caring. So it goes right along with our student character trait—being compassionate, collecting cans, giving to those in need,” Donnelly said.

“It helps families in our area, Riverside, and Delran, so it’s really a great food drive,” Donnelly said. “We love doing it every year.”

Seven-year-old Remy Seiter, who hauls boxed food and cans from his classroom in a little red wheelbarrow at least one a week, told the Times he enjoys helping others.

“Some people don’t have any food, and I just think it’s really nice to donate to them,” he said.

University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter points to the neoclassical tradition of practice-based models of character education in his book The Death of Character.

“The cornerstone of the neoclassical strategy is the Arisotelian argument that virtue is acquired in much the same way as other skills and abilities—through practice,” Hunter wrote.

The approach relies on educators to move beyond posters on a wall to connect repeated action to character virtues, much like the food drive in Delano.

Teachers working to help kids make the connection between words, feelings, and actions will find the stages of developing compassion from the Jubilee Centre helpful as they engage students in meaningful activities like school food drives and other community outreach.

Sign up today for our free weekly email newsletter and we'll send you a free chapter of your choice from
James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson's book The Content of Their Character! Pick your free chapter below.