As families across the country prepared to travel and cook Thanksgiving meals, students at Parkway Elementary School in Mt. Laurel were more worried about helping those in need.
For the 25th year in a row, Parkway teachers and students visited the Ronald McDonald House Southern New Jersey in Camden, bringing with them food collected throughout various grade levels for a Thanksgiving meal to be cooked by other volunteers. Donations also included everyday supplies and items needed for families who stay at the nonprofit.
President and CEO Teddy Thomas of Ronald McDonald House, said support from the community and various organizations is always appreciated by children and families battling various illnesses or diseases.
When groups support the nonprofit for as long as Parkway Elementary School has, Thomas said, the gratitude is impossible to describe, especially when you factor in as much as the school is able to do.
“It’ll be 25 years that they’ve been doing this,” Thomas noted. “ The art teachers help make placemats and centerpieces for the tables, their teachers and room mothers help collect and donate all the Thanksgiving food items … and then the students help decorate our dining room to get us ready for it.”
The Ronald McDonald House Southern New Jersey has 25 themed bedrooms for children and families who are between hospital visits, ranging from the Avengers to Disney princesses. Thomas said the location hosts approximately 750 to 800 families a year. Preparing for events like Thanksgiving — possible through donations such as Parkway Elementary provides — can make the holidays more enjoyable for those battling illness.
“It’s great because they continue to support us throughout the year through various ways,” Thomas added. “But probably the biggest event is when they actually get to come here and it’s awesome that we know it’s taken care of every year and that we don’t have to shop for turkeys and potatoes and pies.
“It’s also wonderful to know that the students at the Parkway in the Circle of Giving club continue to do so much charitable work … The students work really hard to be selected to be in the club and come here, and they’re just an awesome group of students.”
Kristen Cloud, a Parkway teacher from Erial, Gloucester Township, has been involved in the Circle of Giving club in recent years and this year led her first visit to the Ronald McDonald House as leader of the project.
Cloud said she’s encouraged by a growing number of students who donate their own money to the nonprofit, whether from birthdays or a home allowance. Last year, Parkway as a whole raised $3,700 for its annual charity of choice. The club is primarily open to 4th-graders, with 37 students being accepted this year. The entire school contributes to the club in order to make giving back part of Parkway’s culture.
“Seeing the happiness on the faces of those that we can help here make its all worth it,” Cloud said. “This gets bigger and bigger every year, and our club gets bigger every year too, with them going out on their own to fundraise and help.
“It really makes us love what we’re doing here even more.”
Students at Parkway join the Circle of Giving club for a variety of reasons.
“I think it’s important to give,” Airyanna Mitchell said. “When you give to others, it makes them happy. They might not have as much as you have.”
Another student said the mission of the Ronald McDonald House is something he looked forward to helping as he got older.
“I joined the Circle of Giving because I wanted to help kids with certain diseases and be able to donate food, money and other items to help them to have a good Thanksgiving,” Alvin Huang said.
Maria Donch joined after seeing how much the club did before she got to fourth grade.
“I joined the Circle of Giving after seeing what the club did,” she noted. “It made me really want to join and feel inspired to give.”