As the recent holidays approached, members of the Lansingburgh Teachers Association were busy in their usual secondary role as community elves. Teachers, social workers, guidance counselors and school nurses were among the members from all four schools in the district buying and selling raffle tickets and gathering goods for a silent auction to raise money for needy families.
Some schools in the Rensselear County district also hosted their own holiday outreach programs as usual. At Knickerbacker Middle School, for example, teachers and staff bought toys and clothing and wrapped them for needy families.
"We had a whole conference room full of wrapped gifts," said Renee McDonald, building representative for the Teachers Association . She said teacher Cathy Wright and teaching assistant Laurie Ryan have been coordinating the gift campaign for years.
While all were bustling about, a Knickerbacker Middle School social worker discovered during a home visit to a student having problems that a family was in deep distress. They did not have pots, pans, beds or food, said McDonald.
This is when teachers and staff super-sized their hearts and budgets.
Using a list of what the family needed, they brought in bedding, towels, sheets, pots and pans to the school. Then it was delivered to the family.
The generosity was in addition to regular holiday outreach efforts. This year, the TA raised $3,000 for needy families in the mixed urban and rural district, said local president Karen Porpeglia. The money was spent on gift cards to local supermarkets, which were then given to local families.
"We've been doing this for years," said Porpeglia of the 220-member local. "The names of the families come from school nurses, guidance counselors, attendance officers and classroom teachers who know the families in need."
Outreach efforts do not end with fundraising. Educators and school staff also bring in turkeys and hams for the school-wide holiday food drive for needy families.
"CSEA and the Lansingburgh TA have always worked closely in this effort," Porpeglia said. "I always think it's wonderful to help a community in any way we can. At the holiday it's important to show support."
Some families have dealt with poverty for a long time, while others may have fallen on hard times due to a parent suddenly being out of work in this turbulent economy, said Porpeglia, a high school Spanish teacher.
"Sometimes families call the school asking for help during the holidays, McDonald said, or teachers or health care professionals will notice students with no coats, boots, hats or mittens, or perhaps wearing dirty clothes.