By Beth Passner, North Brunswick Township Education Association president
Every year, the North Brunswick Township Education Association sponsors events funded by NJEA Pride in Public Education grants that help our schools and communities. In a typical school year, we usually plan about 20 events that range from literacy and math nights to providing our students with various school supplies.
Since the pandemic had made it impossible to have-in person events for our students, we got creative last year. We placed banners welcoming students back to school, purchased mask lanyards for our staff and students along with a book called It’s Ok to be Different for each of our prekindergarten students that they read together on a Zoom Literacy Night.
As we started to brainstorm additional ways to help our schools we started thinking about how the pandemic has affected so many people in North Brunswick economically. As with all food banks across the nation, North Brunswick’s food bank has been overwhelmed with requests during the pandemic. Our students are dealing with a lot during this pandemic and unfortunately hunger is one of them. We decided that one of the best ways to help our students right now was to help the North Brunswick Food Bank.
We said that if we were going to do this that we were going to go big. We applied for an NJEA Pride grant and were approved for $5,000 worth of food to fill in grocery bags. We partnered with Chartwells, our district’s food service provider to have bulk amounts of pasta, rice, cereal and peanut butter delivered to us. Over 1,500 additional items of soup, vegetables, mayonnaise, tuna and applesauce were purchased by our members.
We wanted to make sure that it was an event that would be safe for our member volunteers. Despite the weather, we planned for an outdoor event in the parking lot of our office in North Brunswick and told our members to bundle up. We also wanted to comply with the governor’s social distancing orders for outdoor gatherings, so we implemented a sign-up sheet to make sure that we did not go over the 25-person maximum as well as having our members take a COVID test before attending.
We set up our tables across the parking lot and members walked around to stuff the bags. We had originally planned to do this event in January but when the COVID numbers spiked we postponed it to March 6. Adam Sawchak from Chartwells was amazing to work with and was very flexible especially when we had to change the date.
In the end, we had 25 members stuff over 500 bags with food in just a few short hours. Students from the North Brunswick Township High School Key Club helped us carry the bags. We are proud of our members and hope that this is an event that we can continue every year from now on.