FAIRFIELD, NJ — More than 2,000 non-perishable food items were collected by Fairfield’s Winston Churchill Elementary School students as part of the school’s character education program. All items will be donated to Fairfield’s St. Thomas More Food Pantry.

The food drive challenge is connected to an event that has been happening at Churchill School for more than a decade called The Feast.

“The Feast is an event that has taken place at Churchill for the last decade or so,” said Danielle Malinowski, sixth-grade teacher and a member of the event committee. “Once a year, we gather together as an entire school, including students, staff and even community members to enjoy a meal together. The purpose is to bring us closer as a school family and teach students about the value of our community.”

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Catherine Prall, one of the program’s originators, explained that The Feast began about 12 years ago as a way to “start a new tradition and build unity within the school.”

“We thought, what better way to enjoy the company of others than with a shared meal?” he said. "The committee began this tradition to enhance the feeling of family among our students and staff. We come together, we share a meal, we laugh [and] we take a break from work for an hour to remind ourselves that we are all a part of the Churchill family. We are lucky to be a part of this community."

Prall added that the although event has changed over the years—featuring various activities that have included a talent show, a variety show, a flash mob and a paid assembly—the food has always been the foundation of the day.

“We mark the grades on the tabletop so that students sit mixed up so that they meet new students from the building, and the teachers also are dispersed throughout the students,” he said. “We sit in long tables in the gym like Hogwarts from ‘Harry Potter.’

“The first few years we had to borrow tables from the classrooms to make it work. We were carrying tables from all over the place; it was quite comical.”

Friday’s event kicked off with a presentation from the food pantry’s Paul O’Brien, who spoke to the students about the importance of building a sense of community by helping others.

The students then took part in a food challenge to see which grade had collected the most food. In order to track the progress, a thermometer was displayed in the hallway to show how much each class brought in every day. Students also made a bulletin board full of ideas about how to put an end to hunger.

According to the school, students were taught that one in seven children in the United States lives with food insecurity, not knowing where their next meat will come from.

Principal Ray Santana, expressing pride in what the students accomplished this year, announced that the fifth grade class won the food challenge with 871 items collected. The winning class will enjoy an ice cream party provided by the Home and School Association (HSA).

The sixth graders came in second place with 650 items, and third place went to the fourth grade with 482 items.

To commemorate everyone’s hard work, Santana said that the entire school will be rewarded with a holiday-themed movie.

The principal thanked the HSA, The Feast committee, the Fairfield Board of Education, Fairfield Superintendent of Schools Susan Ciccotelli, parents, students, teachers, the Fairfield Municipal Alliance Committee (FMAC), the custodial staff and the school aides for making the 2019 Feast such a success.

Lunch at the event included crispy chicken sandwiches brought in by students and Philadelphia pretzels provided by the HSA, which also provided the tables and sponsored an assembly on character education called “I am Corey.”

During the assembly, which emphasized the need for kindness, students were asked to wear T-shirts related to the theme of “kindness.”

Sixth grader Alexandra Bastante wore a T-shirt saying, “I am the Reason Santa has a Nice List.”

“I like to help people who don’t have as much as we do,” she said. “It’s not about winning the prize from the food challenge. It’s about helping people.”

Fellow sixth grader Samantha Van Ness said she was inspired by her teachers, who told her about people who are less fortunate than her.

Corey Jones, the assembly presenter, stated that the best part of the event “is that it teaches ‘action.’”

“Acts of kindness do make a difference,” he said.  

Ciccotelli also weighed in on the event, stating that The Feast is “a wonderful tradition” that she “looks forward to every year.”

“Among other things, it gives the younger students a chance to become part of this family tradition,” said Ciccotelli. “I thank the HSA and everyone for providing the students with this opportunity.”

Pat Freda, president of the Fairfield Board of Education, agreed that The Feast supports the tradition of family and community.

Representing FMAC and Fairfield’s municipal government were Denise Cafone, FMAC program coordinator and municipal clerk, and fellow FMAC member Michael Lattimer.

The teachers on The Feast committee this year included Danielle Malinowski, Amy Guerriero, Jaime Chavkin, Dory Nazarian, Megan Dewland, Joleen Dickson and Tatiana Mayhard.

In keeping with Fairfield’s giving spirit, the VFW Post 7925 and the Fairfield Police Department hosted a breakfast benefitting “Toys for Tots” over the weekend. The public was invited to the VFW on Plymouth Street on Saturday to enjoy breakfast with Santa Claus after dropping off donations.

Steven D’Argenio, a Fairfield police officer and former marine who has been involved with “Toy for Tots” for six years, announced that thousands of toys have been collected in Fairfield this year.