A half-century ago, high school and middle school students typically enrolled in six or seven classes, went out for a sports team or two and played in a garage band or joined their church choir. In those bygone days before Advanced Placement astrophysics, it often did not occur to students to consider those less fortunate among their classmates.
In Seaford, though, for at least the past quarter century, students from Seaford High School — and beginning a few years ago, students from Seaford Middle School —have taken time each Thanksgiving to give a quiet thought for their less fortunate classmates — and, quietly, to help them.
This year, Seaford Harbor Elementary School is joining the drive.
Teachers Tania Cintorino and Shari Raduazzo serve as advisors for these remarkable students each year as they gather food, gift coupons, cash and even the occasional cooked meal to share with their classmates so tat as many as possible may enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Originally, the students studied the high school’s annual Christmas toy drive as a model for their Thanksgiving drive, Cintorino said. A number of students’ families are quietly identified each year, mostly by word of mouth. “The families we try to help are all part of our school communities,” she said.
Then, Cintorino and Raduazzo confirm that the families would like to receive a turkey and trimmings. After that, the students go to work, spreading the word throughout the Seaford community that donations are needed.
They do this by knocking on doors and leaving flyers detailing the kind of donations they need. Beginning in early October, they go out into the community, SHS Student Council President Katelyn Winter said. “Each group of students is assigned a section of the map, and they knock on all the doors” she said simply. Families that want to participate simply leave bags of groceries in front of their houses.
We have to begin early, because some of these chain stores can take a month or more to process our request,” Cintorino said.
At the same time, students canvas local business and restaurants for gift certificates and vouchers for meals. “Some families and businesses give cash,” which is then used to buy turkey’s, pumpkin pies, and those perishable items families will need for Thanksgiving, Michael Lent, a food-drive representative from Seaford Middle School said.
The results from these ad hoc donations filled one entire pantry behind the school’s cafeteria and another small room further down the school’s main hallway.
Students collected food donations on Sunday, driving through their assigned neighborhoods and looking for the telltale shopping bags. Food was brought back to the school, sorted and packaged, ready for drop off on Monday.
In addition to the Thanksgiving meal, “we usually drop off three big 30-gallon garbage bags full of food for each of our families,” Cintorino said. The bags contain vegetables, pasta, sauce, cereal — a whole range of nonperishable food. And of course, a turkey. This year Stew Leonard helped with the turkey donations.
Because of the anonymous nature of both the giving and receiving, only the two advisors and a handful of senior members of the student council know where the deliveries will go. “We want to be respectful and tactful about it,” Cintorino said. Donations from the middle school are distributed through the food ministry at St. William the Abbot Catholic Church, because none of the students drive, she added.
Still, the team uses a school bus and truck from the district motor pool, Cintorino explained, so it’s questionable just how low-key the deliveries can be.
Deliveries were made on Monday. Any leftovers will be donated either to Island Harvest or Long Island Cares, two organizations that help supply local food pantries.
One of the lessons students learn is that need takes many forms. For example, families may be dealing with serious illness or bereavement, besides material need, Cintorino said.
“My family always wants to hear the stories,” Cintorino said.
For senior Kayla Nietsch, the whole thing was a new experience. “I needed this event to put me in the spirit of Christmas,” she said.
Occasionally, the group will meet with surprising responses. “One family told us they didn’t know we were going to be using a us,” Winter said. And Cintorino said people are occasionally unhappy if the truck and bus arrive late — always an occupational hazard, given the number of places they visit ad the amount of food they deliver. But those instances are very rare — “three times in 17 years,” Contorino said.
But most families are happy and grateful, as well as appreciative of the remarkable students and teachers who through of them and helped them in whatever form their need may have taken.