WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield residents are often recognized for their generosity and willingness to lend a hand to those in need. The next generation is being taught to do the same, as all six elementary schools in town coordinate collections of bagged lunches that are provided to homeless people and low-income residents of neighboring towns.

Franklin School students can bring an extra lunch to school on “Two-Lunch Tuesdays.” The school typically collects anywhere from 300 to 350 lunches each week, which are donated to St. Joseph Social Service Center in Elizabeth.

Tamaques School does the same on their “Two-Lunch Thursdays,” and these lunches transported by parent volunteers for those who rely on the students’ generosity.

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Washington School coordinates a bagged lunch collection on the third Wednesday of each month, and a parent volunteer transports the more than 100 lunches to St. Joseph Social Service Center in Elizabeth. In addition, twice each year at Washington, fifth graders have the opportunity to join fellow students to make sandwiches before school. More than 600 sandwiches are made at each of those events, and are also provided to St. Joseph.

“Making extra sandwiches for those who need them is one of the many things we do that doesn’t make it onto the NJ Department of Education report card,” Washington School Principal Dr. Andrew Perry said. “But like so many other events we do together as a community, it is one of the bonds that holds our spirit together”

The students at Washington also coordinate annual coat and sports equipment drives for the families served by St. Joseph. 

McKinley School has been running their “extra lunch” program for more than 10 years, in conjunction with Edison Intermediate School and Westfield High School. The three schools collect every Wednesday and donate anywhere from 175-250 lunches per week to the Salvation Army in Plainfield. The program is coordinated by Erin Wistner, the mother of two Westfield High School students who attended McKinley; she called the lunches a “much-needed and appreciated kindness our community provides.”

McKinley also has a school garden, and donates seasonal produce to the Plainfield Salvation Army’s soup kitchen. Their donations are a full-school effort, according to Wistner, who credits custodians with making sure there are enough collection bags for the lunches, teachers who help get the word out to students and make sure the program continues to be successful, and office staff, who will sometimes call to remind the assigned parent that they’ve forgotten to pick up lunches for delivery.

Jefferson School’s Early Act Club, sponsored by the Westfield Rotary Club, has been collecting lunches weekly for almost 10 years. About 100 lunches are collected each week, and are driven by parent volunteers to St. Joseph Social Service Center. 

“Making an extra lunch is something any child can do,” said Early Act Club advisor and Jefferson teacher Joanne Ryan. She has tried to keep the project kid-friendly, and students are asked to include a note with a positive message with the lunch they pack. Ryan has also expanded to program and Jefferson has held successful collections for Halloween costumes, holiday gifts for kindergartners, and a “Souper Bowl” drive that brought in 700 cans of soup that were donated to needy families.

 “The Jefferson Community is one of the most caring, involved and generous places to be,” Ryan said.

Wilson School holds their “Two-Lunch Thursday” every other week. Students are encouraged to bring one lunch for themselves and one for someone else. Mary Tarashuk’s fourth grade class has taken responsibility for the collection for a number of years now. Four volunteer students from her class collect the lunches and bring them to the office, where they are picked up by parents who bring the donation to St. Joseph Social Service Center in Elizabeth. The bi-weekly collections culminate in a competition between classes in the spring (with a bonus counting, graphing and statistics lesson for Tarashuk’s students). Last year, the spring competition netted more than 1,000 lunches in one day.

“We couldn’t fit the lunches we collected that day in the three volunteers’ cars,” Tarashuk said. “We had to call on more parents to transport the lunches to St. Joes.”

 In addition, Wilson holds a fifth grade “assembly line” event, where students have an opportunity to come together to make sandwiches to be donated.

Westfield resident Bernadette Murphy, director of St. Joseph Social Service Center, expressed gratitude for the lunch donations coming from Westfield schools.

“We distribute about 500 bagged lunches every day, and I don’t think people realize the impact that these lunches have. It’s a real lifeline for the recipients, and every person who makes a sandwich is helping,” Murphy said.

Murphy also encouraged Westfield residents to keep the “extra lunch” recipients in their thoughts over school breaks and the summer.

“We rely on other donations when the schools aren’t collecting sandwiches,” she said. “Making lunches can be a great service project while kids are on spring break or over the summer.”