Groups of six to 15 middle school students from St. Andrew Catholic School spread throughout Lee County to help multiple organizations by donating their time Thursday during Make A Difference Day.
"We wanted our students to have an early start as conscientious and active members of their community," said Dave Bautista, staff coordinator of the event. "It is important to realize the responsibility to give back. We also wanted to build relationships between the classes, getting 6th, 7th and 8th graders working together toward a common goal."
Make A Difference Day was a part of St. Andrew's middle school retreat.
"Our hope is that the students continue to be involved on their own and with their families," he said.
Some of the organizations where the students had the opportunity to volunteer included the Community Cooperative Ministries Incorporated in Fort Myers and Cape Coral; Eden School of Autism; Special Equestrians Inc.; Sterling House of Cape Coral; Ronald McDonald House; Greyhound Rescue; Caloosa Nature Center; Cypress Cove; Impact for Kids and the Red Cross.
Bautista said 95 middle school students and more than 40 parents did 500 volunteer hours at 13 different community sites Thursday.
He said many of the students expected to be bored while volunteering Thursday and were amazed that they got more in return than they gave.
Six students, both 6th and 7th graders, provided a helping hand at the Everyday Marketplace and Cafe in Cape Coral Thursday morning before it opened for lunch.
"Sometimes it's just me," Everyday Cafe and Market Manager Wendi Wilkie said about preparing food for the day.
The menu, which was served at 11 a.m., consisted of pasta with meat sauce and garlic bread, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna fish sandwiches and peach cobbler.
The students began preparing the food shortly after 8:30 Thursday morning.
Corey Heinrick, 6th grade student, said he was looking forward to working in the kitchen because he makes food at home.
Wilkie said on days when she has help in the kitchen, it is usually only three people at a time, which doubled Thursday with the St. Andrew students alone.
Before 7th grade student Darcee Henry dived into helping at the cafe, she anticipated it was going to be fun.
Once things were set up in the kitchen, she immediately got to work by cutting onions before moving on to the next task of making tuna fish sandwiches and smashing bread for the peach cobbler.
Other students filled napkin holders and placed salt and pepper shakers on the tables, opened cans of peaches, cracked eggs, cut celery, along with mixing various ingredients together.
"It's very cool and they are doing really good," Wilkie said about the students helping out in the kitchen. "They are jumping right into it and cracking eggs and cutting onions. It is neat to see them jump right in."
Nick Trigleth, 7th grade student, mixed a concoction of ingredients together in a large bowl for peach cobbler before splitting it into two large pans.
He said he was surprised when he found out that he would be helping out in the kitchen.
"I didn't expect we were going to cook food," Trigleth said, which he said he enjoyed the most.
This is the first time he has participated in Make A Difference Day.
"It is kind of nice to feed the poor people," he said.
Henry said Make A Difference Day means helping out other people.
"A lot of people can't do it on their own and they may need stuff we have," she said.
Tyler Schuman, 6th grade student, said Thursday meant going out and helping people in different organizations in anyway he can.
Darlene Cannistraci, a parent, said she thought Make A Difference Day was great because it makes you want to volunteer your time.
"It feels good to help other people," Cannistraci said. "It makes you a better person."
Paul Heinrick, another parent volunteer, thought Thursday was great because it was giving the students a real life experience.
After all the groups of students were done volunteering, Heinrick said they all met at the Yacht Club to talk about their experience while enjoying lunch.
The CCMI Everyday Marketplace and Cafe began serving the community on Feb. 8. Since it opened its doors, the record number of people served on one day was 128 people. The center typically serves 60 people, with the most people stopping by on Fridays.
The Everyday Cafe, a 2,600-square-foot facility in the Cape Coral United Way House, seats approximately 50 people inside and 25-30 people in the outdoor patio.