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Teacher and Teaching Assistant Unions Join Forces to Spread Holiday Joy

For more than 20 years, staff in the North Syracuse Central School District have worked hard to ensure that all families in the District have food on hand to get them through the holiday recess. In 1999, the Teaching Assistant Unit had a food drive and put together eight food baskets for students’ families. Since that time, the community’s need has increased but fortunately, so has the District’s generosity and staff willingness to help.

Mindy Bristol is President of The North Syracuse Teaching Assistant Association (NSTAA) for the NSCSD and has been involved with the food drive since it began. Mindy has watched the need grow from just eight baskets that first year to overflowing bags for 152 families this year.
Mindy says that as the community’s need has increased, so has the drive and NSCSD staff’s willingness to pitch in. She said, “Over the years the drive has grown with the goal of ensuring that all our kids had enough to get through the holiday break. As need increased, we began partnering with NSEA [NSCSD’s Teachers’ Union] along with local churches and agencies to make sure the needs were met.” Over the years, more and more NSCSD staff and students have gotten involved and now all schools and buildings within the District contribute to the efforts.

John Kuryla, President of the NSEA talked about the drive and subsequent food/gift delivery program referring to the project as a “tremendous undertaking that clearly represents the hidden struggles some of our families are going through.” The NSEA office at 210 South Main Street became somewhat of a food storage facility over the past month as donations were collected, sorted and packaged for distribution. Kuryla points out that even before donations start rolling in, NSCSD staff are at work identifying students in need. Kuryla said, “We are intentionally ahead of the game as our counselors identify students that may need help and do outreach to the families. In the education system, learning is just a portion of what we do to help students and families.”

This year, the 152 food bags were made up of such staples as peanut butter and jelly, cereal, soup, powdered milk, soup, canned meats, fish, fruits and vegetables and pasta and sauce. Additionally, monetary and Venmo donations allowed the group to purchase enough $25 gift cards to include one with each bag. Kuryla said that the food pantry at Cicero-North Syracuse High School also helped with standard items to ensure that each bag was complete. Kuryla said, “Matt Root and Mark Parrish at the high school were amazing. They run an incredible pantry there and the students are involved to make sure that students have food throughout the year. In situations where our donation bags weren’t quite complete, they jumped in and gave what we needed.”

In addition to food and gift card contributions, the drive also collects hats, mittens and gloves through a local church, Immanuel Lutheran in Clay. Those donations are used for students in need and help keep kids warm and dry so they can get outside and enjoy some cold weather fun.

Teachers throughout the North Syracuse Central School District are now busy traveling to the NSEA Office to collect the bags and bring them to their schools for distribution. If transportation to the school is a concern for families, bags are delivered to an alternate, convenient location. The group’s goal is to have all deliveries made by the weekend prior to the holiday break but Kuryla adds that the “elves” that have pitched-in this year will do what needs to be done to make sure every last item is delivered. He said, “I can’t even count the number of staff that have helped make this possible. Every building in the District has given and every school is receiving. So many people have pitched-in one way or another and we’ll do what we need to do to make sure the donations get to where they need to go.”