Wesley Richards and Kerry L. Francis

Kidsburgh Hero: This first-grader organized a food drive to help the homeless

Photo: Kelly Primary School first-grader Wesley Richards with Principal Kerry L. Francis.

On a trip downtown with his mom, eight-year-old Wesley Richards first became aware of the homeless. When he learned that some people don’t have reliable access to food and shelter, he was concerned.

“I wanted to get something for them to eat,” he says.

With the support of his teacher and principal at Kelly Primary School in Wilkinsburg, Wesley encouraged his first-grade classmates to join him in collecting non-perishable food items. A sports locker was converted to a makeshift donation crate and set up in the school lobby for students to deposit food items. Thanks to Wesley and his classmates, the crate filled so quickly that additional boxes were added to capture the overflow.

At the school’s Storybook Forest event, school board members and families added their contributions, with Wesley and his family adding two full boxes to the collection. To reinforce the warm and fuzzy feeling of giving back, kids got to hug Tuffy the Tiger, the food drive mascot, each time they dropped off a donation.

Wesley enjoyed seeing his positive energy catch on among his classmates. As he watched the collection grow to 500 items within just two weeks, he felt happy because “now homeless people will get to eat.”

Wesley Richards and classmate
Wesley Richards encourages a classmate to donate to a food drive he organized at Kelly Primary School in Wilkinsburg.

In recognition of his good works, Wesley was selected by his teacher, Allison Sciullo, as Student of the Month. The award recognizes pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade kids at the school who excel in academics and demonstrate honesty, leadership, a positive attitude and kindness toward others.

The Student of the Month award is just one way the school is instilling important values: Kelly Primary also offers Second Step, a weekly social skills program where kids learn about their communities and ideas to help others in need.

“We at Kelly Primary encourage giving back in all aspects of our daily routine,” says Principal Kerry L. Francis. “The message of caring, compassion and sharing with others is conveyed in daily classroom lessons, as well as special class areas.”

Wesley clearly takes those values to heart. His collection of food went to Familylinks, a nonprofit organization that annually serves more than 10,000 of the area’s residents most in need each year. Services include outpatient mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, educational and behavioral support, and transitional housing.

“We are honored to have been chosen by Wesley and his first-grade class to receive so many boxes of food for our grateful clients,” says Don Goughler, Familylinks interim president and CEO. “At such a young age, Wesley serves as a wonderful example of how we can all help the most vulnerable in our community.”

Wesley’s principal agrees.

“We can all learn from Wesley’s compassion toward others,” Francis says. “When we come together with kindness and understanding toward people, it not only helps our family, friends and even strangers, it gives us a great feeling inside knowing we’ve reached out and made a positive difference in the life of someone less fortunate.”