Not every family can afford to have a turkey dinner with all the fixings for Thanksgiving, but thanks to East Hampton School students and teachers, fewer had to go hungry this year.
Eighth graders at East Hampton Middle School put their heads together and came up with 15 baskets of Thanksgiving food for local families as a part of the school’s Bonac on Board to Wellness program. These baskets provided fresh vegetables and bread, desserts and even whole turkeys to those who are struggling within the school community.
The sixth and seventh graders, as well as students at East Hampton High School, collected an enormous amount of canned food, too, helping offset the increased need at local food pantries.
Each eighth-grade homeroom was responsible for creating a Thanksgiving basket, complete with table settings, tablecloths and handmade holiday cards, according to Lea Bryant, the school’s health teacher. Teachers provided the turkeys and desserts, she said.
“It was special and something we could do to make a difference,” she said. “We wanted the eighth graders to understand they can make a difference, especially collectively.”
The families that were chosen by the school were selected with the help of the guidance office and their specific needs highlighted.
In their cards, the students wrote personal messages.
“The cards were just spectacular,” Ms. Bryant said. “Talking about how this family might need help for certain circumstances makes it more real to the students.”
She said one student wrote, “My dad lost his job, too, but now we’re doing just fine. Hang in there.”
The sixth and seventh graders also had their work cut out for them before Thanksgiving. For two weeks each homeroom raced to the top by bringing in as many cans of non-perishable food as they could. The winning homeroom was promised a pancake and bagel breakfast.
John Ryan’s sixth-grade homeroom won with 248 cans, according to Lynn Rudolph, a sixth-grade social studies and English language arts teacher and the Student Association adviser.
“They beat me at my own game and outsmarted me this year,” she said, explaining that the sixth grade was responsible for bringing in 700 to 800 cans alone. “The sixth grade had fun—the homeroom teachers would smack-talk and lie about having 300 cans but really having 50, or send one picture of kids posing in front of a pyramid of cans. Another class hid their cans in a box that was labeled for something else.”
She said that it was incredible to see the amount of food that spanned the length of the hallway.
Combined, the sixth and seventh graders donated 1,106 cans to the East Hampton Food Pantry.
“I was just so touched by how many kids contributed,” Ms. Rudolph said. “People are really empathetic toward the way the economy is very hard for some families, and in this community, we really look out for one another.”
East Hampton High School students also collected canned goods for the Montauk food pantry. The Key Club got the entire school to participate in a collection competition as well. Collectively, the school gathered 1,185 cans.
According to Greg Mansley, a volunteer who works with East Hampton Food Pantry executive director Gabrielle Scarpaci, every little bit helps.
“They are part and parcel of the success of [the food pantry], he said. “It shows that the community is jumping behind this effort.”