For some families with students at Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School, Thanksgiving dinner will be a special event thanks to AT&T Pioneers, a group of retired and current AT&T employees who have donated food and supplies to seven families this month.
On Friday, Nov. 21, Denise Caruso and Louise Zehnder of AT&T Pioneers dropped off 22 bags brimming with all the food necessary for a special meal — pasta, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, stuffing and more — as well as gift cards to purchase turkeys, chickens, ham or another form of protein.
The 22 bags will complete the holiday dinner table for 45 people in the community, and are adjusted based on family size.
Principal Richard Myerson was on hand to receive the bags from Caruso and Zehnder, pointing out just how meaningful the donation is for his students in need.
“A lot of them go hungry at home,” he said. “Now they have food, not only for Thanksgiving, but for a little bit after that. There are smiles on their faces, and we know they’re well fed.”
Earlier in the school year, the Pioneers ran a back-to-school supply drive and also donated six Kindles to the school.
“Our school is blessed that we were adopted by this wonderful group with our needy families benefiting from their generosity,” Myerson said. “Our school has benefited by their generosity, too, between the Kindles and the school supplies. It’s just a wonderful partnership.”
The Pioneers raise money through working at Sunfest.
“All the money that we make, we give back to the community,” Caruso explained. “On our board, we vote on a dollar amount and we try to connect with our local schools, because they know their student body very well. They know the ones in need. We ask them to give us the families and give us a number of children and also adults, and then we, Louise and I, go out with that money and purchase all of the food, as well as the gift cards for the meat.”
Caruso and Zehnder have volunteered with the organization for more than a decade, explaining that this is just one small piece of what the group does.
AT&T Pioneers is a worldwide volunteer organization that has been around for more than 100 years, striving to give back to the community. “This is a need that we can see, and it’s just a fun thing to do for us,” Zehnder said. “It helps the community, and that’s what we’re about.”
This November, Grove Park Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens is also receiving assistance from the group.
Stories come back to Caruso and Zehnder of the type of impact the group makes on local children, which cross back and forth between the line of encouraging and heartbreaking.
“This has nothing to do with this food drive, but when we donated to another school, the teacher asked everyone how their holidays went,” Caruso recalled. “A little boy raised his hand and he said that he was so excited because he had gotten some food, and he said, ‘I walked over and opened up my pantry, and there was still food in there.’ He said, ‘I was so excited about that.’”
“That just broke our hearts,” Zehnder continued. “You have a little kid here who is so excited about a holiday, but he’s more excited that he has food left over in the pantry.”
What keeps them going, Zehnder said, is knowing that they are making an impact in the community. Something as simple as a box of macaroni and cheese or a jar of peanut butter can make a child’s day or week. “We have a lot, and it doesn’t hurt to give back,” Caruso said.
There are ongoing food drives, including those by the school, to help local families.
“We have more families in need. We’re doing a food drive right now,” Myerson said. “If families want to drop off canned goods for the winter holidays, that’s also wonderful.”
Since donations have to be given out, Myerson requested that they be brought in to the school by Monday, Dec. 15 for the holiday season.
The process of giving the food bags to the families is confidential. “It’s just taking care of the community, one family at a time,” Myerson said, recommending that parents contact the school guidance counselor if their family is in need and could benefit from the food drives.
To see how you can help in ongoing school efforts, call Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School at (561) 904-9200. The school office is open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
ABOVE: Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School Principal Richard Myerson joins Denise Caruso and Louise Zehnder of AT&T Pioneers with bags of food headed to families in need.