By MIKE JAMES - The Independent
RUSSELL — The cereal aisle at Kroger stretched like a crunchy, sugary highway, box after box into the distance.
Drew Twinam’s job was to find two boxes of Special K, the vanilla almond and cinnamon pecan varieties. It was like looking for the Ford in a traffic jam of Chevrolets, Dodges and Nissans.
Look for the big ‘K,’ prompted his teacher, Jenny Hogg.
Sure enough, there it was on the second shelf about a third of the way down. Drew nabbed the two boxes and stuck them into his cart. Mission accomplished. On to the soda pop aisle with Hogg and his two classmates, Jesse Allen and Darin Currier.
The boys and some classmates were shopping for teachers at their school, Russell Middle. The classmates were Jami Schmidt, Nichole Rose, Alexus Washington and Kristen Stapleton.
It’s a service they provide every couple of weeks and also a classroom exercise. They are in Hogg’s functional mental disability class and the shopping expedition helps them practice some skills most people take for granted.
The FMD label indicates they have lower than normal IQs and some difficulty with communication, social skills and basic living skills — like shopping. So Hogg dreamed up the shopping service that gives them a chance to develop their skills and help out their teachers at the same time.
Teachers fill out shopping lists, usually a few items they ordinarily would pick up themselves after work. Hogg and two aides load the kids into vans and drive to the store, deploying in groups to find items on each list.
Each teacher records the approximate price of the items and sends enough money to cover the purchase. Armed with clipboards, calculators and pencils, the students pick the items from the shelf, jot down the price and figure the difference between that and the estimated cost.
Once they’ve wound through the aisles, they meet up at the checkout. That’s another good place to practice social skills, like talking to the cashiers, Hogg said.
Back at school, they unload the vans and take the groceries to Hogg’s classroom. From there they deliver to teachers. “That’s where they get that sense of satisfaction that they’ve helped,” Hogg said.
“I like to help people,” Darin said.
When Darin and Drew drop off groceries to Carol Digby in the library, she rewards them with a hug.
A typical order for her could include chicken, macaroni and potatoes, most of what she needs to make dinner that evening, she said. “It’s a great service. It teaches them math and skills and helps us out so we don’t have to make those trips,” she said.
So far this year they’ve bought $870 worth of groceries for 28 staff members at Kroger and Walmart. Next week, they’re going out to eat, another outing where they’ll practice social skills, Hogg said.