When middle school students at Princeton Day School (PDS) heard of the need for food to feed the hungry at HomeFront, they rose to a challenge presented to them by the Head of Middle School Steve Hancock.
Knowing how competitive middle school students can be, Mr. Hancock announced the school’s involvement in Homefront’s Food Drive as a contest to see which grade could bring in the most food in one week. The challenge was thrown down at an all school assembly and, with a plan of action that included knowledge of which foods were in highest demand, each grade pursued their well-defined task.
“Through some of our parents at PDS, we learned of the desperate need for food at HomeFront,” said Sheila Goeke, middle school librarian and community service advisor to the fifth grade, which ultimately won the contest by bringing in the most food.
“The fifth grade collected corn and canned chili, the sixth grade brought in canned tomatoes and boxed macaroni and cheese, the seventh grade contributed canned mixed vegetables and pasta sauce, and eighth graders donated peanut butter and canned peas,” explained Ms. Goeke. “They collected boxes from HomeFront, filled them with foodstuffs donated from home and helped pack them to go.”
All told, eight big boxes were filled thanks to the students, their parents, and to teachers who also made donations and helped organize the event as a contribution to HomeFront’s March through April food drive.
“At Princeton Day School, we are always looking for ways to help our students connect to the community,” said Mr. Hancock. “We’ve had a long-standing relationship with HomeFront and when we heard there was a need for food, our families stepped forward to help.”
“I’m especially proud that the middle schoolers won,” said Ms. Goeke. “Kudos to them. They take a great deal of satisfaction from knowing they have made a difference and they felt very proud when they were collecting the boxes for HomeFront.”
According to HomeFront’s Sybil Jones, this year’s drive received a valuable boost from the PDS student effort. “They really rallied to the cause. More than anything else, it seems kids understand hunger; they can bring a can of soup or tuna and realize that this is making a difference to someone who is not as lucky as they are; such a simple thing to do, and that is what they have done,” she said.
Each week, HomeFront distributes over a thousand meals at its Family Preservation Center and provides 250 food bags to the homeless from its pantry. In addition, it provides 300 breakfasts and lunches at its Cherry Tree Club pre-school, 160 meals at its summer camps for homeless children, as well as 450 meals and snacks in its Joys, Homes, and Dreams children’s programs.
Since its inception some two decades ago, HomeFront has been attempting to “break the cycle of poverty” and homelessness in Central New Jersey. Its programs serve thousands of families and children in Mercer County.
According to its web site, “in the past year alone, almost 14,000 heads of households walked through our front door looking for help” and “on any given night, we provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, and permanent service-enriched housing to over 450 people, two-thirds of them children.”
The organization not only harnesses the good will of the community and students like those at PDS, it comes up with some inventive ways to raise money, including Mother’s Day requests in support of a fund for homeless mothers in Mercer County.
These particular contributions are designed to give homeless mothers a chance to do something special for their children that most families might take for granted, like provide a new baseball glove or pay for a school field trip or school pictures.
“A lot of our projects have to do with HomeFront,” said Ms. Goeke. This month will see the school’s fifth grade-sponsored “Books in a Bag” project, for which the PDS students will collect children’s books and pack then in special PDS bags. “Each family at HomeFront’s Family Preservation Center will receive a bag of wonderful children’s books to take with them when they leave to go to their new homes. When the bags are delivered, some fifth graders will spend an evening reading to preschoolers at the Center,” she said.
“HomeFront is truly grateful for their efforts, which I think are inspirational,” said Ms. Jones.
Donations to HomeFront can be made online. Canned foods and shelf-stable goods can be dropped off at HomeFront’s main office, 1880 Princeton Avenue, Lawrenceville. For more information, visit: HomeFrontNJ.org.