Belding fifth-grader organizes free dinner to feed the hungry

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 12:38 pm on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Woodview Elementary School fifth-grader Lauren Barker, right, hands a cup of tomato soup to Belding resident Scott Gillespie during a free dinner for the community put on by students at the school. Students provided a warm cup of tomato soup, along with sandwiches and fruit punch, for those who took advantage of the free dinner at Woodview Elementary School.

BELDING — With the thought in her mind that a single member of her community could go without a meal simply because they might be saving money to buy a gift for a loved one during the holiday season, one fifth-grade student at Woodview Elementary School took it upon herself Monday night to give back in a way that might feed anyone who was in need of a warm meal.

Morgan Cochran, 11, of Belding, organized her first free dinner at Woodview Elementary School with a goal to serve 120 people who might be in need of a warm cup of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

About 20 of her classmates were on hand to help with the event, greeting people at the door, guiding them to the cafeteria and then serving them their food.

“I created my own dinner here because I wanted to serve the community and help make a difference on hunger,” Cochran said. “Our goal is to serve people a warm dinner that need it and who truly want it.”

The menu consisted of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit punch, pink lemonade and cookies for desert.

“I wanted to think of a low-expense, warm dinner,” she said. “Grilled cheese and tomato soup are two of my favorite foods ever. I eat them every weekend.”

From right, Belding students Emmi Parker, 11, Lauren Barker, 11, Katelynn Townes, 12, Rachael Morse, 11, and Jacob Mendoza, 11, work in the school cafeteria serving soup and sandwiches to those who attended the free dinner put on by the students Monday night. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Cochran’s mother and Ellis Elementary School first grade teacher Cammie Harris was on hand to help with the event and was proud to watch her daughter’s dream become a reality.

“Morgan is just one of those kids who’s always been extra sensitive to other people,” she said. “She’s always wanted to do stuff for other people, but hasn’t really been old enough until now.”

Cochran approached her mother a few weeks earlier and said she wanted to put on a dinner for everyone in the community and wanted it to be near Christmas time. Cochran said she chose to have her dinner during the holiday season because she knew people might be saving money they have to buy presents.

“Just for her to get this organized and do it all, very much on her own, was really cool,” Harris said.

Cochran invited classmates over to her house in preparation for the event. They helped create posters and flyers to pass out throughout town. She then approached Meijer and other businesses for donations and also received a generous donation from Dr. Charles Barker, who covered the remaining costs for Cochran’s event.

“My daughter was part of the group tonight and told me what they were planning to do,” Barker said. “I thought I’d rather donate and help them so they could spend their time to be more focused on tonight’s event.

“I think it’s great that kids have taken up this cause, especially at this time of year,” he said. “It’s nice to have a warm belly full of soup and a sandwich to go around with it.”

The only downside to the evening was that the goal of serving 120 people was not met, with the actual number of visitors falling below expectations, but Barker said the number wasn’t what was important.

“Even if they only serve 10 meals, that’s 10 people that got a warm meal and might not have had the opportunity for a warm meal tonight,” he said.

Scott Gillespie, who came with his 8-year-old son and Woodview Elementary School third-grader Kyle Gillespie, sat down with some of the volunteer students after they served him his meal.

“This is real tomato soup!” he exclaimed with a smile.

Woodview Elementary School fifth-grader Morgan Cochran fills a cup with fruit punch Monday evening in the elementary school cafeteria during a free tomato soup and grilled cheese dinner that she created to feed hungry people in the community. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Gillespie continued to talk with the students and thanked them for their efforts on the night.

“It was very nice,” he said. “It’s outstanding that these kids went to this length to do it for a good cause.”

At the end of the night, Cochran said she was pleased with the event despite a low turnout.

“Even if only 15 people came tonight, that means there are 15 less people that are hungry,” she said. “That means I helped 15 people and they can be happy now. It’s all worth it.”

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