Our BerkshireTimes Magazine, Holiday 2018

Page 8


Stuffed Bread and the Giving Tree HAPPINESS SPREADS EASILY IF YOU LET IT / By Michael Romano


t was two decades or so ago when I found myself working at a small residential treatment center and school for behaviorally challenged kids. The coed center was operated every day, 24/7 including holidays, and the students’ ages ranged from six to twenty years. It was a diverse group, and every major religion was represented in the population. Most of the kids came from an inner city somewhere but they had different backgrounds and presented different problems. A lot of the students went home for the holidays but some of them had no place to go so they spent the respite at the school. At times it was pretty rough on them, but every attempt was made to make sure the kids were well taken care of and as happy as possible. Program money was set aside for the staff to purchase gifts, and activities were planned, on and off campus, for all age groups. Each year the staff discussed ways to improve the holiday feeling, and we came up with something that was missing from the program – the spirit of giving! So many of the kids had no idea how important and wonderful the act of giving was. So, we decided we would create a program within a program to try and teach our students how to give to others by baking and raising money with bake sales to help local kids who had even less than they did. Back then there was a Kmart in town, and right after Thanksgiving a big artificial tree called the Giving Tree was put up in the entrance of the store. On it among the decorations were tags with the first names of needy local children along with their gender, age, and wish list. The tags were attached to the branches of tree with scotch tape and there were a lot of them to pick from. We grabbed six of those tags, one for each team of the campus group homes. We focused on buying for younger kids because they were easier and less expensive to buy for. Since I had a background in cooking I wrote a program proposal for baking ingredients, and we got permission from the school to use the kitchen and ovens after dinner was cooked and served. After cleanup, staff and students set up shop and started making assorted cookies, brownies, coffee cakes, fruit cakes, cupcakes, tarts, and the anchor for the whole program . . . stuffed breads! 8

Holiday 2018 | www.OurBerkshireTimes.com

The stuffed breads were a calzone-like item except we used bread dough rather than pizza dough. We made three different kinds: pepperoni bread with mozzarella and Romano cheese; spinach bread with spinach, cheddar, and feta; and four cheese bread with cheddar, feta, mozzarella, and Romano. We started with fifty pounds of bread dough and we taught the kids how to cut, stretch, fill, and roll the dough. We then let the dough rise for an hour before putting it into the big ovens. The kids and staff were covered in flour, but you could still see the big smiles when the first batch of browned bread was pulled fresh from the ovens. The smell was incredible and delicious! But that also created a problem . . . the staff on duty started buying the hot breads the second they came out of the oven and soon they had decimated our stock that we needed for the bake sale, so we were forced to bake more. But it was a labor of love. We made 100 of them! The time came for the bake sale. Kmart heard what we were doing for the local children and allowed us to set up shop in the foyer of their store. We arrived with tables and boxes of baked goods and brought some of the older students who had good people skills. Sales were brisk with the stuffed breads selling very quickly, but the cookies, cakes, and brownies did well also. The students did a great job of engaging the public and even got some donations. When it was time to go we had sold most of everything, and the leftover products were sold to staff and students back on campus. We made $475. We divided the money among the teams, and with tags in hand each team went shopping at Kmart for their chosen child. They were excited to do something nice. All gifts were left anonymously, unwrapped with the tag attached. On the delivery van ride there and back you could tell by the smiles and chatter that the students felt proud – they had earned the right to feel good about themselves and staff was proud of them too. We had all done something good and the recipients would never know who their benefactor was. There was enough money left to add to our own school kids’ present fund and a surprise pizza party was held for everyone. The program within a program was a success. The students learned a lesson about giving and making a difference to others through a bunch of stuffed breads and a giving tree. Happiness spreads easily if you let it. ~ Michael Romano, Great Barrington, MA

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