Schools in the Francis Howell School District (FHSD) are always seeking to help improve the lives of students, as well as the lives of those in the surrounding community. Clothing and food drives put on by the students and staff at FHSD schools warm cold community members with a coat, or provide a warm meal for a hungry family. But one student at Castlio Elementary, Tony Valera, has made it his mission to steer the school’s Backpack Program toward success. He wants people to know how Castlio puts the needs of others above their own.
“I’m pretty sure I originally intended on doing it once or twice,” Tony said. “When I first (came in with boxes of food), I had seen people come down the hall looking confused as to what I brought in because a lot of people didn’t know about the food drive.” That is what inspired Tony to help even more. If people didn’t even know about the food drive, then there were certainly some kids out there who were still struggling to get enough to eat. Therefore, Tony to the rescue.
Participating in the Castlio Backpack Program is not about earning points from the Castlio staff (which it certainly does), nor is it about a competition among friends to see who brings in the most food. For Tony, it’s just the right thing to do. “I know that I do get enough to eat,” he said, “but there are kids who don’t. So that just makes me want to help them.”
Castlio Principal Dr. Bridgett Niedringuas proudly watches on as students like Tony display their generosity. “Our Backpack Program benefits students at Castlio by giving them meals and snacks that they can prepare for themselves over the weekends,” she said. “Every Friday, students – with permission from their parents – get a bag to take home. Donations come from Castlio staff and families, Harvester Christian Church, and students like Tony Valera.”
“Usually,” Tony explained, “what we bring in are fruit snacks, gold fish, and mac and cheese, and…I don’t know what they’re called…Ramen noodles?” (Any college student can confirm that yes, they are called Ramen noodles).
“Tony Valera is a great ambassador for the Castlio Community,” Dr. Niedringhaus said, “a model of generosity and selflessness. He has always had a kind heart and compassion for helping others, but he has really taken his benevolence to a whole new level.”
In Tony’s opinion, he’s just following the example of his parents and a school that is truly a lighthouse in the community. “From what I’ve seen from kindergarten to now,” Tony said, “this school is doing a pretty good job of putting other people’s needs into what we do. We do the Month of Giving – contributing to different charities, like the Special Olympics. We’re helping different people for different types of things. Knowing that our school is helping other people around – not just here at Castlio, but even around the United States – is pretty cool.”
Castlio is gearing up for their annual Hugs for Kids school-wide blanket making program to support local children's hospitals and charities. As that nears, the food drive is wrapping up, already a success thanks to heroes like Tony Valeria and his fellow students.