CAMDEN, NJ — Mastery Molina Lower School expanded its Thanksgiving basket program giving 15 families of students a basket loaded not only with food for a full meal but utensils, a table cloth, and roasting pan.

This is the second year the school has donated food baskets, Kimberly Blake, principal of the school, said. The turkeys were donated by mortgage lending company Guaranteed Rate. Families were chosen by a raffle.

“Last year we gave away five baskets and we wanted to expand the effort this year. Once we announced to our staff what we wanted to do, everyone pitched in. Corporate donors like Guaranteed Rate were also generous with food donations. I would say altogether the school itself spent about $400 out of our budget for items,” Blake said.

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Each class – and every class is named after a university or college – had a donation box and children brought in items every day, Blake said.

“The children really loved participating,” said Sierra Rivera, a Mastery parent volunteer. “Even families whom we know are needy contributed. They wanted to help other families who were more in need. A lot of schools have big budgets but they don’t often get involved in alleviating hunger, which is a very real problem in our cities. I donated, taking food items from my own cabinets. I believe you get what you give.”

Blake said the leftover canned and packaged goods are saved and go out for the school’s weekend food bags, a donation effort the school does every weekend.

“These are our kids,” Blake said. “Mastery sees its students not just as students but we’re part of an extended family; that they’re our children. When I conduct interviews with prospective teachers, I ask them ‘why do you want to work here? Why do you want to work in Camden?’ If they answer that they want to help ‘those kids’ I don’t hire them. The term ‘those kids’ denotes a separation in class an ethnicity. The children are not ‘those kids,’ they’re ‘our kids.’

Jeanette Allison, 36 and her daughter Jaliyah Acrey, a Molina student, were among the recipients of a food basket. It was a gift that Allison, who was on the verge of tears said she never expected.

“This has been a hard year for me and my family. We have only one income right now as my husband is still recovering from an accident that injured his neck. My church gave us a food basket, and to receive another was totally a blessing that has come at the right time. We’re slowly getting things back together and something like this is really bringing my joy back. We help each other in this community. It’s not where you live, it’s how you live.”