|Yeshivat Noam students learn lesson in helping
While most of us probably had no trouble filling our stomachs this Thanksgiving, some people do not take a full table for granted, said Teaneck resident Esta Luber, parent of two children at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus and co-chair of the school’s middot/chesed committee.
To help teach students that they have both a responsibility and an opportunity to help others who are less fortunate, the school held a food drive this month, gathering items to donate to Teaneck’s Helping Hands Food Pantry.
On Monday, second-graders packaged the food, piled in containers placed in the entry ways of the school’s Paramus and Bergenfield campuses. When they were done, the boxes were picked up by the pantry and distributed to needy families.
Recommended foods included packages of cereal, oatmeal, pancake mixes, pasta products, and canned fruits, vegetables, and soups, said Luber, adding that collection efforts were highly successful.
“We filled a good number of boxes,” she said, noting that to the best of her knowledge, this is the first time the school has done such a food drive.
As part of the project, Janice Preschel, director of the pantry, visited the school to speak with the children.
“She talked about the pantry and its role,” said Luber, explaining that the intention was “to teach about poverty. The children also made posters about the food drive and we put a notice in the school newsletter.”
In addition to packing the food on Monday, some of the children made Thanksgiving cards “to personalize the experience both for them and for the people receiving the food.”
In all, 80 second-graders helped pack the food. The Jewish Standard spoke with three of them, all age 7 and of Teaneck.
Akiva Prager said the food was for “people who don’t have enough of it,” while Talia Elkin noted that she has a lot to be thankful for, in particular “family, friends, and everything else.” Sarina Shields, who said she expects to enjoy a large Thanksgiving dinner, said she thought it would be fun to stuff the food bags.
“We thought this was a good age for them to start to look beyond themselves and recognize that there are others out there who have needs,” said Luber.
“The kids seem excited about it,” she said. “It’s a good way to teach them in a tangible way to recognize that there are families less fortunate, and recognize how fortunate they are.” Also, she said, the project was intended to teach “that they can really make a significant difference in someone’s life. It’s sometimes frustrating, as a parent, to recognize how much our children take for granted.”
Luber said that food drive efforts were incorporated into the regular school day.
“It’s as important as abc’s to learn these life lessons,” she said.
Fourth-grade teacher Elana Schwarzberg, the school’s liaison with the parent committee, said, “The children were so excited as they walked through the school pointing out the posters they made.” In addition, she said, “It was amazing to see how quickly the parent body responded” and how quickly the food containers filled up.
Schwarzberg said she taught second grade last year and that it’s an appropriate time “to talk about being a piece of a bigger picture, of a greater world.”
The students really do learn that lesson, she said.
“Tzedakah is ingrained in who they are. It’s part of the Jewish people.”
The food pantry’s Preschel said her facility assists between 35 and 50 Teaneck families each week, opening from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
“We’re 100 percent volunteer,” she said, noting that the pantry, funded by donations from individuals and businesses, was founded in April by former Teaneck Mayor Elie Katz and Pastor Daniel Meys of Teaneck Assembly of God. Temple Emeth and the Torah Academy of Bergen County have helped collect food, she said, adding that drop-offs can be made at the pantry or, if it is not open, at the Moose Lodge or Chopstix.
“Kids have been phenomenal,” she said, noting that “a lot of students volunteered over the summer.”
The Yeshivat Noam students “listened intently and asked good questions,” she said. “They had an understanding. That speaks volumes for parents and teachers.”
“Tzedakah is not a new word to them,” she said. “For second-graders, they already had a huge foundation.”