Helping hands

Every year, SEPTA spon­sors a food drive to help fill the cup­boards of the non-profit re­lief or­gan­iz­a­tion Phil­abund­ance. A big help­ing of com­pas­sion comes from the hard work of young vo­lun­teers who at­tend Naz­areth Academy.

The stu­dents at Naz­areth Academy Grade School go all out to help SEPTA’s an­nu­al food drive to be­ne­fit Phil­abund­ance, the re­gion’s largest hun­ger-re­lief or­gan­iz­a­tion.

The school, at 4701 Grant Ave. in Tor­res­dale, has par­ti­cip­ated for the last three years.

Card­board boxes are placed on the stage of the mul­tipur­pose room. “They’re the first things you see when you walk in,” said sev­enth-grader Lauren Preski. “It didn’t take long for them to get full.”

Ac­cord­ing to SEPTA and Phil­abund­ance, about 1 mil­lion Phil­adelphia-area chil­dren, seni­or cit­izens and work­ing men and wo­men deal with hun­ger is­sues every day.

SEPTA ad­dresses that prob­lem each year by hold­ing the Stop Hun­ger at Your Sta­tion food drive. This year’s cam­paign ran from June 6 to 24.

Phil­abund­ance pres­id­ent and ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Bill Clark and SEPTA gen­er­al man­ager Joseph Ca­sey kicked off the ef­fort at a City Hall rally on the af­ter­noon of June 1.

That morn­ing, a spe­cially wrapped “Stop Hun­ger at Your Sta­tion” SEPTA bus rolled in­to the Naz­areth Academy Grade School park­ing lot to carry boxes of food to be de­livered to Phil­abund­ance’s two ware­houses.

The kids were asked to bring such items as creamy pea­nut but­ter and jelly in plastic con­tain­ers and canned tuna, pasta and beef ra­vi­oli.

“Any­thing that wouldn’t spoil,” said fifth-grader Chloe Roberts.

The stu­dents were ad­vised that the best way to con­trib­ute was to se­lect par­tic­u­lar items on their own.

“I went to the store and picked out any­thing that looked good,” said sev­enth-grader Eric Kas­perow­icz, who brought in Green Gi­ant-brand corn and green beans.

There are 237 chil­dren in grades one through eight, and each grade was asked to fill two boxes. Mis­sion ac­com­plished.

“We get a lot more every year,” said sev­enth-grader Mi­chael Fluehr. “Every­body is aware of it, and we try to col­lect as much as pos­sible.”

The drive sup­ports the nine counties served by Phil­abund­ance. There is hun­ger every­where, ac­cord­ing to dir­ect­or of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­nic­a­tions Marlo Del­Sordo, even in af­flu­ent Chester County. She cites the high num­bers of un­em­ployed and un­der­em­ployed people.

To make mat­ters worse, Phil­abund­ance’s dona­tions are down 68 per­cent from this time last year.

“This couldn’t come at a bet­ter time,” Del­Sordo said of the food drive. “Our ware­houses are pretty empty.”

Del­Sordo noted that Phil­abund­ance ac­cepts vo­lun­teers as young as age 9, and she was ap­pre­ci­at­ive of the dona­tions by the young people at Naz­areth Academy Grade School.

“When kids get in­volved, it means so much,” she said.

Dur­ing last year’s SEPTA food drive, 19.6 tons of food were col­lec­ted, which was double the 2009 in­take. That res­ul­ted in 40,000 meals.

The ef­fort gen­er­ally takes place at more than 50 SEPTA sta­tions. Naz­areth Academy Grade School is in­volved be­cause Fran Kelly, SEPTA’s as­sist­ant gen­er­al man­ager for pub­lic and gov­ern­ment­al af­fairs, sits on the school’s board.

The school con­duc­ted its drive early, from May 16 to June 1, be­cause classes let out for the sum­mer on June 10, just as the over­all ef­fort got un­der­way.

Kelly said SEPTA col­lects food in June be­cause needy young people who re­ceive meals in school of­ten go hungry dur­ing sum­mer months. He said the need is great­er be­cause of the de­cline in dona­tions to Phil­abund­ance.

“We step up this time of year be­cause break­fast and lunch go away in the sum­mer­time,” he said. “Dona­tions are down, and the need is up.”

Sis­ter Mary Ann All­ton, the school prin­cip­al, said the chil­dren per­form char­it­able acts throughout the year, in­clud­ing mak­ing blankets for a home­less shel­ter, pre­par­ing brown-bag lunches once a month for a fa­cil­ity that feeds the needy, and donat­ing baby items to a home for preg­nant wo­men dur­ing Cath­ol­ic Schools Week.

“We be­gin the day every morn­ing with pray­er, and one of our in­ten­tions is the home­less and those suf­fer­ing from hun­ger,” the prin­cip­al said.

The stu­dents get the mes­sage.

“At Naz­areth Academy, the pri­or­ity is that we’re blessed, but all the people in the world are not,” Lauren Preski said. ••

To make a dona­tion, vis­it www.phil­abund­ If you know someone in need of food as­sist­ance, tell the per­son to call 1-800-319-FOOD.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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