Oranges become sunshine-colored symbols of hope for hungry students and their families who find them in backpacks or at food pantries, along with peanut butter, granola bars, beans, tuna and other staples — thanks to help from resourceful NYSUT local unions. Here are just a few examples of the many ways NYSUT locals help the hungry:
New Paltz United Teachers, led by Ronald Simon, host "Soup's On" luncheons every fall. Members make soups, salads and desserts for a donation. The money — $680 this year — goes to Family of New Paltz, a local food pantry and shelter.
Catskill Teachers Association, led by James Maccaline, held a "5K Run/Walk for a Claus" race that raised more than $4,000 for the Matthew 25 Food Pantry and Community Action of Greene County.
Western Sullivan United Teachers and School-Related Professionals runs a backpack program that sends home food and toiletries to about 200 students in need every two weeks. Donations come from union members, the high school Parent-Teacher Organization, community members, a local church and United Way of Sullivan County.
"We know how important it is to make sure that our students are fed while they are home as well as in school, and we are extremely thankful for all the donations that we receive to help fight hunger in our community," said SRP unit President Hilda Monfredo, NYSUT's 2013 SRP of the Year.
The SUNY Canton chapter of United University Professions runs food and fundraiser drives at each semester's end to benefit Helping Hands of Potsdam. The effort is boosted by a chummy rivalry between academics and professionals from the Canton chapter, led by David Hartle, to see which side can raise the most money and food.
"This friendly competition has helped raise several hundred dollars and dozens of food items over the past two years thanks to the support of the leadership and the generous hearts of our members," said Sabel Bong, EOP counselor and UUP member at SUNY Canton.
When the Wallkill TA, led by Richard Shands, put out a "call for help," members used their "internal union phone tree" to ask everyone to bring a canned food donation to school. The Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Faculty Association, led by Adam Wall, and the Pulaski TA, led by Meg Woods, as part of NYSUT's Local Action Project, a community outreach and member involvement program, organize food drives on staff development days.
Educators from the Yorktown Congress of Teachers, led by Sean Kennedy, raised $3,452 for a food pantry by waiting tables. The host restaurant, Traditions, also donated a portion of its proceeds to the pantry. The YCT regularly raises money for the food pantry through dress-down days. The union stepped up its game after a retired teacher volunteered at the local food pantry and found former students there in need of food.
Last fall, when many efforts were focused on collecting for Hurricane Sandy victims, the Hyde Park TA, led by Mary Beth Scattergood, collected food for the local pantry, which was short on supplies.
The Tonawanda Education Association and the Parent Teacher Student Association delivered more than 750 pounds of goods to the St. Francis Food Pantry. The union, led by Ron Sesnie, also hosts dress-down days, raising at least $500 annually for the pantry after the holidays to help replenish supplies.
Close to 30 backpacks for students from struggling families are filled with donated food by Eldred Central School FA members at the end of each school week. Local President Zita Kurtzman-Yennie said elementary school nurse Carol Franco launched the program three years ago. The FA also supports Casual for a Cause, which has raised more than $5,000 for food gift cards for struggling families.
The Tri Valley TA, led by April Kackos, marshalled a school- and community-wide "Elf-Force," working year round to stuff a school bus with holiday meals and warm clothes, some of them hand-knit. Elves from the Tri Valley Essential Support Staff Association, led by Kathi Smith, also made a generous donation to offset food and gift costs.
Romulus school nurse Babette Bennett, vice president of the Romulus FA, said the local union stages monthly food drives to support a student backpack program.During the holidays, the local, along with CSEA union members, adopts several families to help with gifts and meals.
The Pittsford District TA, led by Jolene DiBrango, hosts food drives every month to support the Pittsford Food Cupboard. Adam Piaski, president of the Ithaca TA, said his local makes a yearly monetary donation to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, which serves Tompkins County.
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