Washington Elementary Students Collect Cans For Food Pantry

By Julie Ross
Franklin Street in West Orange is typically abuzz with traffic. But on May 25, a portion of the thoroughfare was blocked off by the West Orange Police Department to allow students from Washington Elementary School to deliver 1,001 cans of non-perishable food they had collected for the Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry directly to the pantry’s door in a “Soup-er Bowl” food drive.
Third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students formed a human chain between the school and the entrance to the food pantry, handing over the soup cans one by one once Principal Marie De Maio declared, “Pass the soup.” Children in kindergarten and first and second grades also participated in the delivery effort, with Washington Elementary School Student Council representatives accompanying them as they hand-carried cans from the school to the food pantry door.
The “Soup-er Bowl” food drive has been an annual event at the school for 12 years and is spearheaded by Kindergarten teacher Linda Perna.
“We launched this because the Super Bowl was a perfect time to do a drive for soup,” Perna said, noting that the event is an excellent lesson in caring and sharing for the students, who anxiously look forward to it every year and always ask when it will begin. “Teachers and students initially carried (the cans) over to the church in containers. We saw the ‘human chain’ in a newspaper article about another school located near a food pantry and thought it would be a great way to involve everyone. We’ve been doing the hand-off ever since, for about nine years.”
Each year, students start collecting cans on the Monday after the Super Bowl. The annual collection goal is 1,000 cans, and the delivery date is set in spring, as soon as the weather permits. This year’s inclement weather and the need to complete all standardized testing pushed the delivery date to late May.
To reach the collection goal, all families whose children attend Washington Elementary School receive fliers encouraging them to donate non-perishable food in cans. Student Council representatives pick up the cans from each classroom once a week, tallying the individual totals. The classes compete against each other to collect the most cans, and the six classes with the highest collection totals are rewarded with a Dunkin Donuts party.
Both Perna and De Maio said that while the students like the idea of a party, they are more excited about the idea of helping the food pantry. They also do not mind giving up their recess time for the delivery.
The Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry opened in October of 2002. Its parishioners donate food and offer financial support, and the pantry works with local agencies and the Community Food Bank of Hillside in Hillside to provide the necessary groceries for West Orange families in need. The food pantry is open on the fourth Monday of each month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on the third and fourth Tuesday and Friday of each month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information,
contact the food pantry at holytrinitywo@gmail.com.

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