By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — The Pope John XXIII Regional High School mission statement includes the motto “Challenging all to be an Honor to the Father.”
All students in grades 8-12 meet this challenge every day while working in the classroom, walking the hallways, playing sports, participating in clubs and volunteering in the community.
On Tuesday, the students embodied this statement during one of the school’s biggest events of the year — the annual Thanksgiving Food Drive. With their help, along with family members, Pope John faculty and staff, and the Knights of Columbus, Marquette Council No. 588, they donated 164 food baskets and over 300 turkeys to 14 local churches and volunteer organizations in an effort to help those in need have a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.
“It was a huge success,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School President and Principal Father Kieran McHugh said. “It’s gratifying that the families, students, the faculty and staff here at Pope John are so generous to the needy in our area. Thanksgiving is a wonderful celebration and, unfortunately, not everybody has a full table. Hopefully, we were able to help many families.”
“It’s awesome,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School senior Nick Bello said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s great to give back to the community and give those less fortunate a meal on Thanksgiving.”
The school has conducted the food drive for over 45 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.
This tradition has grown each and every year, according to Pope John Supervisor for Academic Instruction Brian Vohden and Pope John Theology teacher Brigette Hanley.
“It’s pretty cool to be a part of this project at Pope John,” said Vohden, who has coordinating the drive along with the Theology department since 2011. “You see the seniors lead the way, the juniors load up the cars and the underclassmen help out. It makes students want to get involved with it year after year. It’s great.”
“This is my favorite thing I do for Pope John,” said Hanley, who has been involved with the food drive since she started teaching at the school in 2014. “It’s awesome to see the kids take ownership. It was hard work, but they are happy to do it. Seeing kids realizing the value of service and giving to those in need is rewarding.”
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 into the cars after the school’s annual Thanksgiving Mass in the morning.
Once the baskets were packed, the 41 senior drivers 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), Camp Auxilium (Newton), Samaritan Inn (Newton), Sussex County Food Bank (Newton), St. Thomas (Oak Ridge), Straight and Narrow (Paterson), St. Thomas the Apostle (Sandyston), Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Swartswood).
Bello was thrilled to be a part of this tradition for the fifth straight year.
“This is always one of the best days for me,” Bello said. “I was inspired to be a part of it when I was in eighth grade. I helped load the cars for a couple of years. This year, I am a driver. It’s been great to see it through.”
As for students like junior Grace Young, she was excited to lend a helping hand by being one of the students who loaded the cars.
“It’s really cool,” Young said. “We are called to do this type of service. You feel like you are actually helping people who need it.”
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.
“You need to show how thankful you are for what you have, but you also have to be there for those who are less fortunate,” Bello said. “That’s what it is all about.”
“We have more requests every year to take care of the needy people in our area and beyond,” McHugh said. “But, thank God we are able to respond to that need.”