Across the state, educational support professionals are demonstrating over and over why they are not only essential to their school families, but also to their communities.

Deb Crosby, a paraprofessional at Burlington County Special Services School District and the Burlington County ESP of the Year, has been making sandwiches weekly to help feed the hungry in her area. She and her husband, Dan, are part of a team of volunteers who made more than 500 sandwiches for Cathedral Kitchen in Camden. This week, they have made 126 sandwiches.

In North Hanover, ESP members volunteer to make food a few times a week to ensure that their students who receive free or reduced lunch have the breakfasts and lunches on which they rely.

Michaelene Stiles, a paraprofessional for the Gloucester City School District, helps operate a The Helping Hand food pantry in Gloucester City. Due to her work schedule, she can only be at the pantry during the summer months or holiday breaks. During the school year, she helps out by shopping for the pantry, delivering emergency food supplies to families in need, and operating the pantry’s Facebook page.

When the Covid-19 pandemic closed schools, Stiles stepped up to run the pantry. Most of the year-round volunteers are over 60 years old or have other health conditions and should not be unduly exposed to the virus. In addition, with so many people losing their jobs, Stiles knew there would be more need than ever.

She mentioned her fears about not being able to keep the pantry open to her colleagues who were also helping out with school lunch distribution. Stiles’ colleagues stepped up and have been helping out, even as the need has grown.

As Stiles says, teamwork makes the dream work, and ESP members are showing what a vital part of the team they are.

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