MONTVILLE, NJ – The 367 students of Hilldale Elementary School in Montville joined forces to send 370 sandwiches, wrapped in hearts, to Homeless Bus, Inc. A non-profit that travels to New York City from Towaco, every Saturday night, Homeless Bus, Inc. was founded by Mark and Anna Landgrebe in 1992. The dedicated family of volunteers is based in the Towaco section of Montville Township.

In addition to making sandwiches, the kindergarten through fifth grade students donated dollars to decorate hearts. At the end of the 45 minute event, 370 turkey and cheese sandwiches, wrapped in plastic and a hand decorated heart shaped note, were donated to Homeless Bus, Inc. The school also gave a contribution of $1,000, which was earned by students and families participating in supporting activities held in honor of the event.

“I came up with this idea when one of my daughters asked me for some food for the school pantry, said parent organizer, Grace Sumka “When I asked why she wanted it she said it was so she can get a raffle and win something.  What I was hoping to hear was to help the needy and know specifically what charity.  I realized that although the school does a lot of charity projects it is really about the parents providing it with no or little involvement from the students.  I wanted to do something that would involve the kids and give them some awareness of the needy.  I heard about the Homeless Bus and how this one couple has been making 200 sandwiches and giving them to the NYC homeless every Saturday for over 23 years. I approached Mrs. Jill Cisneros, the principal of Hilldale, and asked if I can hold an event after school for children to make sandwiches for the Homeless Bus.  Mrs. Cisneros wanted all the Hilldale students (367 students) to be involved so she made the sandwich making event during the school day and involved the students from K-5.”

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Sumka reached out to two other parents, Tina Swords, and Suzanne Reiss. The three worked with Cisneros and the Hilldale Student Council, spearheaded by teachers, Sandy Weber and Jason Jones. Together they organized and created sponsorships for the benefit. The Hilldale Parent Teacher Council also helped to sponsor and promote the event.

Supplies were assembled including: turkey, cheese, bread, gloves for each student, plastic bags and hearts. Shop Rite in Lincoln Park, New Jersey gave the committee a discount because the sandwiches were being donated to Homeless Bus, Inc.

The week before the event Hilldale held an assembly. Anna Landgrebe, from Homeless Bus, Inc. gave a presentation about the homeless and her charity. The students asked many questions and were inspired to help. 

The volunteer coordinators’ children, Matthew, Jeremy and Kevin Reiss, Gabby and Elly Sumka and Kyle and Nichole Swords, helped their mom’s coordinate the event for the entire student body. They made posters, cut out 400 hearts (that were put on the bags the sandwiches were put in) and helped all the students make the sandwiches.

After students made a sandwich, they each signed a heart that said “I helped a homeless person today.” The hearts were hung in the hallways of Hilldale Elementary School after the event.

Sumka and her team hope other schools will be inspired to hold similar events.

“Anyone can call me at any time,” she said. “I would be happy to walk through the steps we took to make the event efficient and successful. The more people who help the homeless, and the more children become aware of how gratifying it feels to help others, the better.”

The event, which occurred in February, engaged the entire student body, as well as the teachers and staff. It cost $340 and resulted in 370 sandwiches, a $1000 donation, and a much better understanding of how gratifying it is to help others.