Local unions aren’t letting big snowstorms or the pandemic have the last word for 2020.
From South Huntington to Saratoga Springs to Saranac Lake — and many points in between — union members are delivering bundles of goodies and gift cards to make sure students and families are nestled with care.
Undeterred by two snow days and school closure this week due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, Saratoga Springs Teachers Association members delivered the last of the holiday gift packages Tuesday night.
TA treasurer Amy Krogmann, a math teacher, delivered packages to their designated drop-off sites for parents. The TA donates money each year, supplemented by individual teacher donations, to provide a complete Christmas for each child on the list. Gifts for this year’s 35 children included coats, outfits, toys and games.
“It’s a very robust ‘Give a child a Christmas’ program,” said TA President Tim McGuiggan.
“It’s our way to helping the community,” said Krogmann. “Some teachers say it’s their favorite part of the year.”
She recalls how one year, the high school student council adopted a child. As each gift was purchased, it was numbered. One of the student council members was in awe, realizing that was why, as a child, his Christmas gifts were numbered. He had been a recipient of the very same program, and now he was giving back. His mom had told him the numbers were so Santa knew which “John” he was.
The TA works hand-in-hand with members of CSEA who donate to the Christmas gift program, which was started by community member Laurie Dudka’s grandmother in 1978, Krogmann said.
In South Huntington, the TA partnered with the school district in order to provide "virtual food baskets" to their Long Island community members struggling to have enough food.
“We donated 30 gift cards (15 to King Kullen, and 15 to Stop and Shop) each in the amount of $100,” said TA President Dennis Callahan.
Also on Long Island, the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College again bolstered its three on-campus food pantries with holiday donations.
“We donated $400 dollars to each campus's food pantry ($1,200 total). We did not purchase actual food because we wanted to minimize spread of COVID,” said FASCC President Dante Morelli. Each pantry was provided with $25 gift cards.
In another part of the state, Horseheads TA took a different approach to giving, by helping members and business owners hit hard by the pandemic.
The executive council approved $1,000 to spend on gift cards from small, locally owned businesses, and then purchased 50 gift cards worth $20, which were awarded by random drawing.
“The idea came from one of our members who thought it would be a good way to help out local businesses,” said TA Treasurer Brandon Johnson. “A large portion of our school district is currently in an orange zone from New York State, so a lot of our businesses are limited on what they can do.”
Central New York families continue to get a boost from the North Syracuse EA, which has kept up the pace of its food outreach program.
“We have partnered with a local food pantry, Anna's Pantry in Cicero as well as the Food Bank of Central New York,” said John Kuryla, EA president. “ Our members and retirees have been very generous with monetary donations. The needs of our community are increasing. It's seen daily.”
Members also support the annual food holiday drive, led by North Syracuse Teaching Assistants President Mindy Bristol. It garnered enough goods to provide three to four days of food to 100 needy families—along with hats, gloves, mittens, books, crayons and board games.
“Our school counselors and social workers were able to connect with our (district) families and help us determine the overall need,” Kuryla said.
This region also benefitted from the generosity of the Baldwinsville Teachers’ Association, which donated $1,000 to purchase 100 gift cards of $10 each to local restaurants. These were included in gift baskets for students provided by administrators, said Beth Chetney, local president.
Baldwinsville teachers were also on the receiving end. Local flower shop Ponto’s Greenhouses donated 900 surplus poinsettias to educators in appreciation for their work throughout the pandemic. Robust red and pink poinsettias will now carry the holiday season indoors.
Lastly, not too far at all from the North Pole, Saranac Lake TA donated $500 in the name of the top teacher fundraisers for the annual Turkey Trot to support food pantries. It was held as a month-long November event this year due to COVID.
In December, the local supported a holiday dinner give-away drive-thru in conjunction with the district's community school's initiative, according to Don Carlisto, SLTA president. The TA also continued its tradition of promoting “Shop Local,” and at last count, had charted members making 125 purchases in three weeks.