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Helping hands

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.

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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.philabundance.org. 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 twaring@bsmphilly.com

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