The Seaford Harbor Parent Teacher Association has a whole new twist on donating food: playing dominoes with boxes of cereal. One hundred boxes led right to the Seaford-based For the Love of Pete’s Pantry.
A Google search reveals that school districts across the country have been taking part in the Cereal Challenge, in which boxes of cereal are lined up like dominoes, and then tipped over in a cascading collapse. The cereal is then often donated to charity.
“Everybody is into social media, and I happened to notice it on Facebook that some other schools were doing this,” said Tina Bellissimo of the Seaford Harbor PTA. “I’ve been a fan of Pete’s Pantry, because it’s a local Seaford pantry. And I said, you know what, this would be really wonderful because they do outreach to not only Seaford, but all the surrounding areas.”
Beth Escobar, who runs the pantry with her sister, Jeanne Rodrigues, and her best friend, Claudia Brunie, said she was happy to get the phone call from PTA members who wanted to make a donation.
Bellissimo and the PTA raised the idea with Seaford Harbor Elementary School students and their families in late April, and she said it was well received. “We’re always looking for something for the kids to do,” Bellissimo said. “Unfortunately, with Covid, the kids aren’t able to participate and do as many fun things as they’re normally able to do. So it was combining the fun activities for the kids and at the same time doing something good for our community.”
Thomas Burke, the Seaford Harbor principal, said that when Conaty originally presented the idea to himself and second grade teacher Katherine Black, the challenge was gladly accepted.
"It was a great event that the Harbor School will surely make an annual tradition," Burke said. " Most importantly, we want our children to remember, as Ms. Black reminded us that, 'happiness has a domino effect. Aim to be the start of the domino.'"
Seaford Harbor students brought in 100 boxes of cereal, and on May 26, teachers lined up the boxes and took videos of themselves playing dominoes. Later that day, the boxes were taken to For the Love of Pete’s Pantry’s headquarters.
“They were very grateful,” Bellissimo said. “They said that most of the time, cereal is considered a luxury, an extra. Now that they’re able to give it to the people that need it, it’s kind of a treat for them.”
Escobar said that the boxes of cereal were already packed up and ready to go to shelters and pantries, including Glory House Recovery in Hempstead.
“It was really rewarding,” said PTA president Shannon Conaty. “Cereal is really the one food that is the least donated, so a lot of the shelters don’t get to have cereal, due to it being really expensive.”
Conaty said that this wouldn’t be the last cereal drive at Seaford Harbor. The drive perfectly matched the school’s theme for the year — Home is Where the Harbor Is — which encourages families to give back to the community by shopping local and helping where they can.
Seaford Harbor is the second local school to donate to the local pantry: The Island Trees Union Free School District also made a donation of cereal. “I’m so excited that the kids are getting involved,” Escobar said. “We want them to be able to learn that this is a great experience, that giving is a really good thing.”
Escobar and Rodrigues, who lives in Southern New Jersey, founded the pantry in honor of their late father, Pete Haller, who set an example for his family by putting others before himself. The goal of For the Love of Pete’s Pantry is to become a fixture in Seaford, where residents can come when their neighbors are in need of food, toiletries, Christmas or Easter presents, baby supplies or other necessities.
“We’ve got a big pantry in the backyard, in the shed, that’s got shelves,” said Rodrigues, referring to Escobar’s Seaford home. “It’s full of non-perishable foods that we can give out to people. So people can contact us directly if they need assistance.”
Since the pantry was created last September, the community has shown widespread support. “We have a lot of local support, which is nice,” Rodrigues said. “If we say we need something, or if somebody needs something, on our Facebook page, people respond. I always found that people want to help; it’s just that they don’t know what to do. So if you give them some ideas or you tell them what you need or you lead them in the right direction, people want to help. So they do.”