UNION, NJ — It was a day of giving back as 21 members of the Union High School National Honor Society gathered last month to make more than 150 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the St. Joseph’s homeless shelter in Elizabeth.
In the UHS Cafeteria on Feb. 18, the students divided themselves into two groups, working in an assembly line to make all the sandwiches, which were later picked up by Barbara La Mort, a volunteer from the shelter, to be distributed that day.
Suzanne Whitley, an adviser to the school’s honor society, told the Union Leader that the students have been active this year with such initiatives as a bake sale to help fund scholarships, participation in a 5K walk in Cranford for juvenile diabetes, and the organizing of a food drive, with donations given to a local food bank. In addition, National Honor Society students donated and helped collect toys and wrapping paper for the Santa in Blue Toy Drive held at the senior center in December, assisted with a blood drive in March, and will help clean up Union parks in May.
Whitley said the recent experience really hit home for many students and that, for some, the big takeaway was gaining a new appreciation for the food they eat.
According to Whitley, the students were faced with decisions while purchasing food supplies for the initiative, and that making these decisions had a discernable impact.
“The students had to make a decision on behalf of the homeless people,” Whitley said in a March 10 email. “The NHS was willing to purchase supplies to make sandwiches and fruit snacks but we weren’t going to include a drink.”
Whitley said that The Miggins Group, of Keller Williams Realty in Short Hills, made a donation that allowed the students to purchase drinks at Costco to add to the lunch bag. The students had to decide whether to use funds to buy Capri Sun, considered a better drink, or water and Kool-Aid.
“Ultimately, they discussed it and went with both drinks,” Whitley said. “They had to think about the homeless, and what the best use of the money would be for them or how to be good stewards. They recognized that they can take many things for granted.”
Sister Jacinta Fernandes, of St. Joseph’s, told the Union Leader the shelter works with several schools throughout Union County for the shelter’s sandwich ministry and Saturday soup kitchen.
“It’s great to see young people so interested in helping people in need,” Fernandes said in a March 17 email. “St Joseph’s distributes sandwiches every day, Monday through Saturday, to people who are homeless or have little or no income. On most days, we distribute up to 200 bag lunches.”
Fernandes said that the sandwiches have a big impact on fighting hunger.
“These sandwiches come to us already made from schools, churches and other groups,” Fernandes said. “The sandwiches are a great help in alleviating hunger.
Many of our clients have told us that during especially hard times, they really relied on the sandwiches received at St. Joseph’s. Sometimes, the sandwiches are dropped off for our volunteers to distribute to those in need. At other times, the donating group participates in the distribution. Many students do community service on Saturdays, when we serve a sit-down dinner. They wait on tables, and help with setup and cleanup. We serve about 200 people every Saturday. Churches take turns providing the meals.”
According to Fernandes, students who become involved with such charitable initiatives get a lot out of the experience.
“They meet people who are homeless, children who come with their parents and they become aware of the fact that there is a hunger problem right here. They learn to empathize and be compassionate. Many come back during their college breaks and some have even come back years later as adults with their children,” she said.