The last bell of the day had rung, and most of the students at C.S. Porter Middle School hustled down the hallways and out the doors to catch buses headed for home.
But a dozen sixth-graders in Maeta Kaplan’s homeroom class were eager to stay for more work.
Their afterschool mission? Rolling out cookie dough; cutting it into snowmen, stars and bells; baking the shapes; and then decorating the treats with sprinkles, candies and frosting.
“We are doing this for the families who don’t have a lot of money to spend on the holidays,” explained Jennifer Seymour, one of the sixth-grade bakers. “And it makes me feel good to help the community.”
Because of small work crews assigned to different tasks, the youngsters were able to make and package cookies for all 60 holiday food boxes that will be distributed to Porter’s needy families on Thursday and Friday.
Missoula County Public Schools are closed for the holidays from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, with school resuming Jan.6. The food boxes give families whose children qualify for free or reduced school meals a boost during the long stretch, Kaplan said.
Wrapped in festive bags, each cookie package had a note card attached that reads: “Some homemade goodies from Porter School and the Random Acts of Kindness Club.”
Included in the food boxes are canned goods, Top Ramen, and other pre-packaged items donated by school families, and fresh fruits, vegetables, and a turkey or ham, which was purchased by the school with money donated by families and community members, Kaplan explained.
The boxes, of course, will also include fresh-baked, made-from-scratch cookies.
The holiday baking extravaganza has become a tradition that Kaplan started several years ago, ever since she taught Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory.”
“It’s a story about anonymous generosity in that the protagonist and his friend bake fruitcakes and give them to people they meet or admire,” Kaplan said.
The timing of the classroom lessons coincided with the school’s holiday food drive and a baking project seemed like a natural extension of the story’s theme.
“Some of us are more fortunate to have a nice holiday and we want to give those who aren’t as fortunate the opportunity to have a nice holiday,” said Catie Yakawich, who was busy decorating cookies with colorful sprinkles and gumdrops. “Because nobody wants a sad holiday.”
Overseeing the dough rolling, cutting and baking, Porter mom Erin Turner doled out some advice.
Careful with the fragile dough, you don’t want to handle it too much, and roll it out gently. You want to get it down pretty thin, about a quarter of an inch thick, she said.
As the young bakers washed their hands, put on aprons and prepped their work areas with flour, Stockton Ingram grabbed the first ball of dough.
“I would rather bake and cook than sit on my couch,” he said of the afterschool activity. “I love being able to get your hands dirty and be able to taste your work.”