Thanksgiving dinners and gift cards were delivered on Tuesday to 27 Neshannock Township families with school-age children who are in need this holiday season.
For more than 10 years students of all grades as well as staff participated in the food drives, donating cash and non-perishable food items in their classrooms. The school’s National Honor Society chapter members packed the donated items and completed dinners from turkey to dessert with a wealth of side dishes that were delivered.
Senior high school counselor and NHS advisor Brenda DeVincentis said every classroom is involved in the project.
Beginning on Nov. 18, each homeroom collects non-perishables ranging from boxes of stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, canned vegetables including corn, carrots, green beans and yams, holiday napkins, jars of gravy or envelopes of gravy mix, boxes of stuffing, instant potatoes and macaroni and cheese and the fixings for green bean casserole, including cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions, and candied yams with brown sugar and $40 in cash donations.
After the food is collected, the cash is used to purchase perishable items. Each family is provided with a full-size turkey — most were 13 to 15 pounds, the largest being 16 pounds — a loaf of bread, a pound of butter, a gallon of milk, a holiday pie and a container of whipped topping to go with it, DeVincentis said. The donated items are divided among the recipients.
The community also takes part, DeVincentis said.
“One family donated all of the potatoes this year, she said. “Every family got two 10-pound bags.”
Another family, she noted, provided an extra turkey.
“We’re full service,” noted NHS president Nick Viggiano. “We even include the roasting pan to cook the turkey.”
The students added they incorporate creative ways to raise money for this and other projects. Tuesday, the last day before the holiday break, for instance, students could wear pajamas to school if they paid $1. There were many takers.
DeVincentis said recipients are all Neshannock Township residents, all with children within the school system, who don’t have the means to provide a holiday meal. She checked each box and bag to be sure each had everything it needed, including recipes for green bean casserole and a turkey and directions.
High school principal Luca Passarelli and Melissa Nugent, who teaches the life skills class helped to pack bags and check boxes. Within an hour of beginning the operation, everything was delivered to a driver and on its way. DeVincentis even recruited local U.S. Army recruiters Sgt. Eduardo Marcos and Sgt. First Class James Monpas to help to deliver.
The school nurse and the administration determines which families might need a helping hand, she said.
“The families are contacted, asked if they will accept a meal and if so, asked how many they expect to have at their table on Thanksgiving,” DeVincentis said. “We’ve delivered to families as small as three or four and groups from 15 to 20.”
She said the meal delivered is enough for a holiday feast as well as leftovers in the days to come.
“That is why we include boxes of macaroni and cheese,” she said. “That goes well with turkey sandwiches.”
Some families contacted, she said, decline the offer, saying they can provide.
Any unused non-perishables, she said, are donated to the City Rescue Mission who incorporates them into their meals.
Any left over cash, she said, goes into Save-a-Lot gift cards so the family can buy food for Christmas and Easter dinners.
“We don’t do the shopping for them for those holidays, but we see that they have the means to celebrate,” she said.
DeVincentis said gift cards usually total $50 for Christmas and $25 for Easter.
She said Save-a-Lot was selected because it is in the community, “and offers us a good discount on perishables.”
All recipients, she said, are kept confidential.
“No one at the school, not even the teachers, knows who the recipients are. Each box we pack is named for a state,” she said. “The drivers don’t know the names or the recipients only the address and that ‘Alabama’ is to be delivered here and ‘Texas’ is to be delivered there.”
It was a good morning, DeVincentis said. Only one state box — each meal was packed into two boxes plus one bag —got loaded into the wrong vehicle.
“We’ll have to wait until they find it, come back and load it with the right batch,” she said. “All and all, it’s been a good morning.”