TOMS RIVER – At the Walnut Street Elementary School, 22 fifth grade students and their teacher spearheaded a food collection for the families of veterans who are in need of assistance at this time of year.
For 30 years, the food collection has been taking place at the K-5 school. With an enrollment of 776 pupils, the whole school participated in the food drive.
For more than 20 years, Barbara Tracey’s fifth grade classes have teamed up with the Vietnam Veterans of Ocean County, Chapter 200, for the food drive.
Ron Bogota, a Vietnam War veteran, started the collaboration between the school and the veterans organization 30 years ago when his son, Daniel, was a sixth-grader at the school.
Principal Richard Fastnacht said he is filled with joy seeing the students give back to the community.
“It is a great feeling to have the children so hands-on. To see this class take the lead and our whole school and community come together to give back makes me fortunate to be a part of this school community,” Fastnacht said.
Toms River Regional School District Board of Education President Russell Corby was in attendance to watch all of the food that had been collected be loaded.
“This helps take care of a problem with food security. This is important. The children get to see it from the bottom up,” said Corby, who is an Army veteran.
Bogota said he is glad the food drive has continued for decades.
“These children are the closest thing to angels I have seen over the years. We feed an average of 350 families a year. If we have any food left over it goes to Christmas. … For over 30 years this school has collected enough food to take care of a small city,” he said.
Bogota said the food would be taken to the Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau in Lacey Township and then distributed.
“We do not turn anyone away who is in need. This is my 30th year and I am proud to do it. This food drive started off small and then took off. I am looking forward to continuing to do this for as long as my back holds up,” he said.
Tracey said the food drive gives her students a sense of community and pride.
“Some of our own students do not have a lot, so for them to be able to help someone else is really important to them. This food drive makes you thankful for what you have and makes the children realize what they can do for others,” the teacher said.