WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange Washington Elementary School held its annual "Souper Bowl" drive for the Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry on Thursday and helped to fill the food pantry shelves.
A record 1,368 items, canned and packaged, were collected. The students formed a human chain stretching from the steps of Washington School and across the playground, crossing Franklin Avenue and heading into Guild Hall where the food pantry is located. Third, fourth, and fifth graders formed the chain while K-3 made "special appearances" with extra packages and cans.
Police officers Dan Carroll and Brad Squires blocked traffic on Franklin Avenue and handled security while the entire school, which had collected items for over a month, excitedly chanted "pass the soup" as cans and packages were passed from Washington to the tables at the pantry.
Holy Trinity's newly-appointed Priest-in-Charge, Rev. Miguel Hernandez, whose daughther Mary attended Washington for kindergarten several years ago, posed for a photo with Principal Marie DeMaio and the church's new Archdeacon, Rev. Dr. Peter Jackson.
"This is great," said Rev. Hernandez. "Just so wonderful." He thanked Principal DeMaio, the staff, and students for all they had done.
Board of Education member Laura Lab was on hand to help cheer the kids on and pass a few cans herself. Teacher Linda Perna, who has organized the event for the past several years, was happy with the outcome and pleased how the students understand the value of their efforts. "This event is so huge, and so important," she said, "Kids were bringing in donations up until this morning."
Each class participated in the drive, and the top totals came from Mrs. Geller's fourth-grade class with 216 cans and Mr. Oakley's fifth-grade class with 343 cans.
The children returned to class proud of their contributions to those that were less fortunate, and the staff at the food pantry stayed behind to stock their shelves for this month. "We look forward to this every year," said longtime volunteer Freddie Diemer. Alice Hoffman, the food pantry founder who passed away in October, 2013, was always there with a smile on her face as the kids formed their chain and handed off the cans. "Alice would have loved this," she said. "She always did."