Seneca Family commits to support for residents in need

Bags of collected foods for Seneca High School’s food pantry (Seneca High School/Special to The Sun).

Seneca family: It’s a phrase commonly heard by staff and students at Seneca High School.

After learning that their own community experienced a food shortage,  educators banded together to give back to the Seneca Family. But donations didn’t happen overnight. The closure of schools because of COVID-19 left Seneca’s in-school pantry for students in the Free Reduce Lunch program untouched, and a staffer wanted to ensure none of the food spoiled.

As remote learning continued with no end in sight, Assistant Principal Karen O’Neil boxed the goods and took them home. Donations of the food went to area pantries, but there was also a need in some families of Seneca students. Food was delivered to homes by school nurse Melinda Mehigan and guidance counselor Erica Maira. But it ran out as quickly as requests came.

“So many staff wanted to help, and we realized quickly the need was going to be big in the community, and it was only to grow as things got worse,” O’Neil noted. “More people are going to be out of work, and so we started to organize and Melinda said, ‘I would love to organize this.’”

A request for help from school coworkers was followed by a flood of donated food, toiletries and grocery store gift cards. Mehigan packed bags of food complete with at least one breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack option.

Then the student council got involved.

“Every week, we’ll go over our budget on what we have, and they (the students) like to keep things local and give back to our community,” said Maira, who is also the student council advisor. “We donated $2,500 (in) gift cards.”

Gift cards are mailed or dropped off by staff members at the homes of either O’Neil or Mehigan. Stores include ShopRite, Acme, Murphy’s Markets and Russo’s.

Mehigan explained the drive gives people the freedom to continue giving, and to not have to go into a store if they do not feel comfortable. It also satisfied dietary restrictions on gluten, milk, soy and other products.

Bags of food, as Mehigan explained, contain at least three days worth of meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a starch, granola bars, vegetables and a $50 gift card. Maira added the donations mirror the care Seneca has for its families.

“Knowing that you’re loved by your school and community has also brought a lot of people together,” she mentioned.

Bill Fisher, a health and physical education teacher, has started a fundraiser for homemade Seneca masks. Some have emblems of the school’s sports teams and groups and another plain one reads “Seneca Strong.”

Proceeds, as stated on TinyURL.com/SenecaMasks, go back to feeding families in the school.

O’Neil added that funds from the masks help supplement the food drive, the need for which will continue as the pandemic goes on and the economy feels the ramifications of job losses and other factors.

April’s Easter donations came and went; another donation was planned for May 15, and the Seneca trio is organizing to fulfill district needs in June. The hope is to continue into the summer and keep the effort manageable for themselves.

“For us, it feels natural for what our jobs are,” O’Neil said of herself, Mehigan and Maira. “This is so hard for educators right now. To not be able to see our students on a daily basis, if there is something little we can do to make it a bit better for them, then we want to do that.”