BRICK – Sharon Panek believes that community service is as important to a child’s growth as academic achievement, and as the Early Act Club advisor at Lanes Mill Elementary School (LMES), she spearheads a food drive each year that raises thousands of pounds of food for FulFill New Jersey (formerly the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties).
Panek is the recipient of the first ever All Star Teacher Award that was presented to her by the New Jersey Education Association in an awards ceremony held at IPlay America at the end of January.
The fifth grade teacher was recognized for her efforts of running the food drive for the past 16 years, which she delivers to the food bank in her own car.
Two of her fifth-grade students also received awards at the ceremony. Kianna Thompson won an award for her drawing that was supposed to illustrate something related to ending hunger, and Michaela Smith’s essay entitled, “Why is it Important for You to End Hunger in Your Community?” landed her an award.
Kianna’s illustration (“Squeeze Out Hunger”) shows two sets of hands squeezing the word hunger in the sky above the food bank building. Three outstretched hands are above the food bank building while people are wheeling carts of food towards the building.
“My first idea was a foot stomping out the word hunger, but it was easier to draw hands squeezing out hunger,” Kianna said.
Kianna’s illustration would be used by all schools who won club awards, which is “a big deal,” Panek said.
Michaela’s essay talked about how some people don’t live very long because of hunger.
“Winter was coming and I thought about homeless people who were hungry and cold out in the bitter cold weather,” she said.
Michaela said she has seen some homeless people in New York City and wonders how they ended up there and how they survive.
The contests were open to all 563 students at LMES, and both contest winners said they were very excited when their names were announced over the school loudspeaker.
As their prize for winning, Kianna and Michaela each got a plaque and they get to have a birthday party at IPlay America in Freehold.
The Early Act Club is a community service club for fifth grade students who visit a nursing home once a month, collect for UNICEF at Halloween, and they give up their lunch period once or twice a week to help out with the autistic classes and with younger grades at their school, Panek said.
“I love the idea behind feeding the hungry and getting all my students behind it,” Panek said.
LMES collected over 3,500 pound of food this year, and the classes that collected the most items were Mrs. Schubauer’s 4th grade class; Mrs. Panek’s 5th grade class; Mrs. Korndoefer’s 1st grade class; Ms. Scott’s 1st grade class; and Mrs. Faherty’s 3rd grade class, who each won an ice cream party.
LMES Principal Jeffrey Luckenbach said Ms. Panek’s extra effort for the food bank is amazing.
“Giving is part of our school’s fabric,” he said. “We always try to promote the overall child.”
Luckenbach said the school has won a food bank award “Philip N. Connelly Spirit of Giving,” named after a former LMES student who died in an accident.
“The Early Act Club does great service projects to all our community members,” he said.