By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — The thought of not having a Thanksgiving dinner is unfortunately a reality to some people in this area and throughout the country.
The thought of not being able to sit down with family and friends and enjoy a nice, hot plate filled with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and other great food choices is something that should not happen.
The latter thought drove members of the Pope John XXIII Regional High School community on Tuesday as they were participating in the school’s annual Thanksgiving Food Drive. With their help, along with family members, Pope John faculty and staff, the Knights of Columbus and Sutherland Packaging, they donated 140 food baskets to 11 local churches and volunteer organizations in the area and also helped out Straight and Narrow in Paterson in an effort to give those in need a Thanksgiving dinner this year.
“The food drive was wonderful and the participation was tremendous,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School President Rev. Msgr. Kieran McHugh said. “We are conscious of the needs of the community. Some people are falling on hard times and we have to help them out. It is our responsibility to help them out. Those are the values we teach here at Pope John. We thank all of our people who have contributed their generosity to this food drive.”
“This food drive gives us peace of mind that we are helping people who are less fortunate than us and giving them a day to celebrate,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School senior Caitlin Hanley said. “I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to do this.”
The school has conducted the food drive for over 46 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 year and the lessons that come out of it are ones that everyone will always remember, according to Pope John Supervisor for Academic Instruction Brian Vohden and Pope John Theology teacher Lee Imbriano.
“Everyone always steps up,” said Vohden, who has coordinating the drive along with the Theology department since 2011. “In the eight years I have done it, we have done about 1,200 dinners for families in the county alone. But, we are happy to know that someone will have a holiday to enjoy.”
“The kids are getting a life lesson in the importance of giving back a regular thing you do as a citizen,” said Imbriano, who has been involved with the food drive since he started teaching at the school in 2015. “We are reaching out to the most vulnerable people in our communities and it helps students start to realize that these people should get what we all have on Thanksgiving.”
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, 82 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), Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Swartswood).
Hanley was thrilled to be a part of this tradition during her time at Pope John.
“This is a great to be a part of because you are making a difference in someone’s life,” Hanley said.
As for students like sophomore Mike Bello, he was excited to lend a helping hand by being one of the students who loaded the cars.
“We as a Pope John community will always help those in need,” Bello said. “Father McHugh always tells us to ‘Be an Honor to the Father’ and be there for people. That’s what we do here.”
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 will give us something to remember when are having our own dinners,” Hanley said.