By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Coming through in the clutch is usually referred to an act in which an athlete helps a team win a game or competition by providing a game-changing play.
In the game of life, the Pope John XXIII Regional High School community came through big time during its annual Thanksgiving food drive, as it donated a whopping total of 451 turkeys and 140 food baskets to 11 local churches and volunteer organizations in the area, and helped out Straight and Narrow in Paterson in an effort to give those in need a Thanksgiving dinner this year.
“The response from the Pope John community has been amazing” Pope John XXIII Regional High School President Rev. Msgr. Kieran McHugh said. “It was a complete total effort of generosity from parents, students, faculty, and staff to the needy for Sussex County and beyond. Everybody was involved in this. This is a normal act of kindness at Pope John. We thank everybody for their wonderful generosity.”
“This food drive is immensely special,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School senior Ciera Smith said. “I don’t know how many high schools do things like this, but I know that nobody gets a monumental response like we do. Everyone at Pope John does respond here with such great enthusiasm.”
The school has conducted the Thanksgiving food drive for over 47 years. Each year, the seniors bring in turkeys, while the juniors, sophomores, freshmen and eighth grade students bring in canned vegetables, soups, meats and sauces plus pasta and pies.
In addition, some seniors are given the responsibility to deliver the baskets and some juniors are tasked with packing the cars.
While this tradition has grown each year, Pope John Director of Curriculum Brian Vohden couldn’t believe the amount of food and dinners the school community was able to provide.
“This has to be a record day, especially with the number of turkeys,” said Vohden, who has coordinating the drive along with the Theology department since 2011. “I was pacing around my house this morning trying to figure out if we had enough turkeys and food to go around. Everybody came through when we needed it the most. People were dropping off two or three turkeys at a time. The Knights of Columbus supplied 60 turkeys as well, which was a huge help. The generosity was unbelievable. ”
Like most years, the students began packing the baskets on Monday, going door-to-door in each of the nine Theology classrooms. Then on Tuesday, the students loaded the turkeys and baskets into the cars.
Once the baskets were packed, 76 senior students delivered baskets and turkeys to the following churches and organizations: Our Lady Queen of Peace (Branchville), Immaculate Conception Church (Franklin), Our Lady of Fatima (Highland Lakes), St. Jude the Apostle Parish (Hamburg), St. Jude Parish (Hopatcong), Our Lady Star of the Sea (Lake Hopatcong), Our Lady of the Lake (Mount Arlington), Samaritan Inn (Newton), St. Thomas (Oak Ridge), Straight and Narrow (Paterson), St. Thomas the Apostle (Sandyston), and Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Swartswood).
“What makes this is so special is the network of dinners that go out,” Vohden said. “These people really are our neighbors. These dinners are not going to some far off place. They are going in our backyards. You may not know exactly who is receiving these dinners, but you know they are our neighbors.”
While the great amount of food and dinners donated was nothing short of amazing, the lessons that the students and the Pope John community learned during this drive are also valuable.
“Even though I have not been less fortunate or food insecure in my life, it’s been important for us to help others who are in this situation,” Smith said. “This helps us know that we are doing something good in the world.”
“It’s beautiful when you ask people to give so much to those in need and they respond selflessly,” said Imbriano, who has been involved with the food drive since he started teaching at the school in 2015. “From a religious perspective, this is the epitome of our call as Christians: to help others in need. When you see how much these kids and their families give, it inspires you.”
While there are still millions of people who will not have the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, the Pope John students and the school community were happy to make a difference for all the families that will receive their food items.
“It means a lot,” Smith said. “It fills us with joy and gladness that we can come through for those in our area.”