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BY KATE ALBRIGHT

for Montclair Local

Buzz Aldrin Middle School house leaders held their annual Thanksgiving drive on Tuesday, Nov. 24, with this year’s need even greater due to the pandemic.

Because of COVID-19, the Buzz Aldrin community did things differently this year. According to Principal Jill Sack, teachers still wanted to go forward with the drive despite the extra effort it might take during the pandemic. And this year, the PTA was motivated to help. 

Jackie Brower, a science teacher and house leader in one of the five houses within Buzz Aldrin, was the main organizer of the drive. 

“The conversation usually starts in October for who we think we need, what we want to put in the baskets, how we can get all the donations. The PTA really helped us a lot this year with co-organizing. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help,” Brower said.

In a normal year, students are involved with the drive, collecting food in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. On the Wednesday before the holiday, students would help fill baskets at tables set up in the gym. 

The setup was different this year, Sack said, as safety protocols had to be followed and no one was allowed in the building. For days, parents dropped off food in the bins that were set up outside. Teachers and parents started organizing the donations on Saturday, Nov. 21, and shopping for additional items, using PTA funds and teacher donations. Teachers loaded the baskets that would be going to each family outside Buzz Aldrin.

“It is so important to everyone involved and it’s such a tradition that we didn’t want to give it up for this year,” Sack said.

Teacher Diana Grassi held a drive in her town of Rutherford, bringing in around 12 bags of food and turkeys.

School officials contacted families who might be in need of a Thanksgiving meal. And this year, a few families called in and asked to be put on the list, said PTA President Mary Sue Youn. “Because of a recent job loss or something that had happened to them this year, they didn’t have the funds to get a Thanksgiving meal,” Youn said.

The school usually prepares 23 to 25 baskets, but this year they made 42, said Assistant Principal Nisha Gandhi. 

In addition, teachers and staff delivered all of the baskets this year. “We’ve always delivered a few, but not all,” Gandhi said. 

Joe Davis, a security guard at Buzz Aldrin and the executive director of Brother to Brother Mentoring, helped with deliveries for the first time this year but has been delivering for drives for at least 10 years with Brother to Brother.

“This is a time that everyone needs to really come together, all families. You have a lot of people with food insecurities, and so this is one way of bringing families together, putting a smile on someone’s face. I think it’s all worthy,” Davis said. 

This year, the group also added extra items to the baskets. 

“Everyday staples, not only to get them through Thanksgiving Day but through the weekend. People will still be hungry on Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, so we hope to have an ongoing initiative, and we’re thinking now about what we could do for winter holidays or what we could do to just help families,” Youn said. 

Teacher Stephanie Drozd, a house leader for 15 years, understands what it’s like to need support. When she lost her home and all of her belongings to a flood eight years ago, teachers and parents rallied around her, raising money through car washes.

Parents shouldn’t have to choose between paying the electric bill and buying food, Drozd said.