Sewanhaka High School students learned a valuable lesson of gratitude by giving back to those in need before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Since Oct. 31, members of the high school’s Students and Teachers Against Cancer have been collecting donations for their annual Thanksgiving food drive. Each year, the items are delivered to St. Vincent de Paul Parish Outreach, on Depaul Street in Elmont, and the school’s guidance department, and then distributed to the needy.
This year, the group planned to donate the items on Wednesday, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Alyson Ruvel and Antonietta Barbosa, the club’s advisers, have been involved in the food drive since they began teaching at Sewanhaka High School. Debra Bolton, a former special education teacher, founded STAC and ran the club, as well as its initiatives, until she retired.
“She is very charitable, even now, she’s always supporting our department, or if we do a fundraiser, she’s our mentor with that — a heart of gold,” Ruvel, also a special education teacher, said of Bolton.
Barbosa, a mathematics teacher who began overseeing the club as co-adviser in 2010, said that in each of the last 12 years, she has seen an increase in the number of turkeys, non-perishables, canned goods, cranberry sauces, pastas and more.
She added that last year about 30 boxes full of food and 20 turkeys were donated to the church, as well as Sewanhaka High School students and families in need.
“It’s a sad time for those who are in need of simple things like food and clothing,” Barbosa said. “It makes me super happy to know that I could help them in such a simple way in putting food on the table during the holidays.”
Ruvel said that over a week before they planned to drop off the donations at St. Vincent on Nov. 23, she already had at least 12 boxes of food piled up in her classroom. She added that the Sewanhaka High School students are “quite giving” and by the time they prepare for the drop-off, the STAC has a generous amount.
Last year, the volunteers pulled up with four to five cars full of food, Ruvel said.
“We have a bunch of staff help us and it takes about 40 to 45 minutes to unpack all the food just out of our trucks and into St. Vincent’s,” Ruvel said. “(The soup kitchen) is a staple in the community for people that need it. St. Vincent is always so appreciative because not only does this food help out for Thanksgiving, but also for their holiday season as well.”
The advisors said the food drive is a high school-wide effort because not only do the students in STAC get involved, but their peers in other classes, faculty and staff as well. Barbosa said teachers turn the drive into a friendly competition to see which class brings in more towards the end of the week.
Ruvel said her department conducts social and emotional learning and recently the seventh and eighth grade teachers invited guidance counselors to educate students about gratitude, what it means to be thankful and how they can pick themselves up when they are feeling down.
“They talk about how giving and doing things for others plays a big role in our own mental health,” Ruvel said. “It’s a group effort — I think it goes a long way, and the kids are very proud that they are doing something for others. It’s fabulous.”
Barbosa said she feels gratified seeing the young students getting involved each year and never hesitating to offer help.
STAC also organizes various fundraisers throughout the year, such as raising money for cancer awareness, making quilts, selling masks and more. They also strive to involve the rest of the student body and faculty in their events.
“It’s nice to see the younger generation is helping without even asking,” Barbosa said. “Some students just come up to me and they say, ‘Mrs. Barbosa, what can I do, how can I pack things?’ It’s just so refreshing to see the students just wanting to help, volunteering and taking initiative.”