HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – Lorraine VonHess, a paraprofessional at the William Davies Middle School, was on cafeteria duty as the school year neared an end last June and was dismayed to see students throwing unopened and untouched food into trash cans during breakfast and lunch period. She decided that there had to be a better use for that food.
She approached Principal Stephen Santilli with an idea that would help feed people rather a landfill.
“Let’s donate it to people who are in need of the food,” she said.
Santilli allowed VonHess to develop a plan.
“I have to be honest about my role in getting this started," he said. "It was pretty simply, all I needed to do was say 'yes,' and Ms. VonHess, along with the help of other paraprofessionals, made the rest happen."
VonHess met with fellow paraprofessionals at Davies and district food services director Bill Trackman to develop a plan to collect the unwanted food, then contacted her colleagues in the district’s two other schools to participate in the program. They readily agreed to sign on.
It was decided that the food collected would be donated to the food pantries at First United Methodist Church and St. Vincent DePaul Church, both in Mays Landing.
Each week paraprofessionals from the three schools deliver the food to the churches in refrigerated bags donated by the Hamilton Township Education Association.
“This initiative not only aligns with our school's recognition as a National Green Ribbon School, but blends sustainability with kindness, and in turn supports those in need within our community,” Santilli said.
“Aesop once said, 'No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.' So many families within our own community are able to be supported – from an initiative that began as a simple thought of kindness, now grown into a district initiative,” he said.
VonHess also saw a need to come up with a name for the program. She asked her son Kurt for an idea, and he quickly suggested a play on the federal government’s No Child Left Behind educational program: No Food Left Behind. The name quickly stuck.
Rev. Linda Ross of First United Methodist said she is grateful for the donations.
“It’s great that the young people have an awareness of the needs of the community,” she said. “We have many more clients in need now due to all of the casinos and other businesses that have closed and left people without jobs.”
According to Trackman, federal and state regulations dictate that certain items including cereal, fruit, vegetables and milk must be distributed to students – whether they want it or not.
“We prepare 750,000 meals a year among the three schools in the district,” he said. “Before this program was developed, much of the food went straight to the landfill.”
“Students used to throw away foods they didn’t want,” Von Hess pointed out. “Now they are proud of themselves that the foods are going to good use. About 50 to 60 bags of food are delivered to the food banks each week.”
Paraprofessional Terri Quidachay delivers eight to 12 bags of food twice a week to the Methodist Church, where she is a member of the congregation and worked in the church food pantry for seven years.
“I knew we needed food for people in our community,” Quidachay said.
School District Superintendent Frank Vogel is impressed with the program.
“The paraprofessionals started this program behind the scenes and did not expect any fanfare or recognition,” he said. “This is what makes America what America is.”