JACKSON – A team effort of students and school staff culminated recently at the McAuliffe Middle School with a visit by area veterans and donations of food to a military pantry program.
McAuliffe Middle School Principal Debra Phillips was on hand with students, staff and others for a presentation of the items following a number of special activities.
“The annual McAuliffe Run for Vets celebration is our small way of saying thank you to our local veterans. We organized a series of events this year including an obstacle course for our students to compete in during physical education classes, a door decorating contest, and a series of competitive relay races,” she said. “The culminating experience was a buffet breakfast for our veterans and classroom visits where some of our veterans presented their military experiences to our students. As a means of giving back and as a sign of our appreciation, we chose to conduct a food drive for the local military base food pantry.
“We are proud to have collected over 1,300 items this year to donate to our military. This tradition is in its 22nd year and we look forward to continuing this tradition for many years to come,” the principal added.
Teacher Melissa O’Neill is the advisor to the school’s Builders Club and oversaw the drive. “The efforts of our McAuliffe Builders Club helped us to raise 1,365 items to donate to our local military food banks. I feel honored and blessed to be a part of a school where the students and faculty really came together for such a worthy cause.”
Sixth grade student Rhea McRae’s class gathered the most donations – 200 items – and Rhea was the person in the class who brought in the most items and felt very strongly about the endeavor.
“Everyone deserves to have a home and food. Our military are just coming from serving our country, they deserve to come home and have food and everything they need. The soldiers helped other people survive, they deserve the stuff they need to survive,” the student said.
Mike Schaffer, coordinator of the Military Support Alliance Food Warriors program, told members of the McAuliffe school staff after learning that 1,365 items had been collected that, “this is the largest single load from anyone in a year and a half.
“This is amazing and wonderful work. It gave me goosebumps seeing how excited the young Food Warriors were,” Schaffer added. He also serves as the American Legion State Chaplain, is a member of American Legion Post 129 in Toms River and is a Red Cross volunteer.
Schaffer said that active service men and women stationed at The Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst have a genuine struggle to put food on their tables. The Food Warriors program needs over 4,000 pounds of food per week to keep up with the needs of these families stationed at the base.
“I found out that the Red Cross had a food pantry on base and I went there to see if they had an issue, and they did. When I walked into the pantry, I did not see any food. I saw a young lady sitting at her desk, she was crying, the Chaplain in me kicked in and asked what was wrong and if I could help.
“She was new to this Red Cross assignment and told me she had just arrived and did not know anyone; they had a food distribution that day for 125 active duty and retired families and that she had no food for next week’s distribution. My comment to her was, no one is going hungry on my watch,” Schaffer vowed.
The Food Warriors program began 18 months ago to help families of active service men and women stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. To date they have supplied over 100,000 pounds of food and over $40,000 in monetary donations to families in need stationed at the base.
Last month WBNJ 91.9 FM, the Ocean County Board of Commissioners and the Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau held a food drive at the Ocean County Southern Service Center in Manahawkin which benefitted the Food Warriors Program. Their effort was successful but the Food Warrior’s mission continues.
Among the items donated were cake mixes, brownie mix, grits, salad dressings, breakfast bars, mac & cheese, flavored side dishes, breakfast cereal, pancake syrup, pancake mixes, canned goods, dry pasta, pasta sauces, peanut butter, jelly, and non-perishable food items. Many of the same items were collected by members of the McAuliffe Middle School.
Schaffer said volunteers of the organization delivered 150 bags, each of them had enough for a family of five to prepare a Thanksgiving meal: “everything from mushroom soup, string beans and fried onions to make that amazing string bean casserole to pumpkin pie mix, cranberry sauce up to and including a turkey to 150 families. They will receive a voucher to go to the commissary and get a turkey. This way they can pick it up at their convenience and we don’t have to worry about storing frozen turkeys.
“We will probably be doing the same thing at Christmas. We’re going to see how this one goes. We did Thanksgiving and Christmas last year and we’ll do it as long as we get all the donations, we need to be able to make that happen,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer added, “I’ve actually spent $5,000 at the commissary supplementing what we’ve been getting as donations. With the prices of everything it is tough for a lot of the people who used to donate. Now they are making sure they have enough food for their own table before they can get into helping others” Schaffer added.
Volunteers for the Food Warriors should contact the Red Cross and donations can be made through contacting Schaffer at Michael.A.Schaffer1949@gmail.com. “This organization is actively engaged. There are changes that are coming to help with base housing allowances and food allowances and provide more child care and some things to get food prices lowered at the commissary. The Joint Base is a mission critical base and it really needs to be taken care of. All of this is now being considered as a matter of national security.”