Oak Knoll School Community Gives Back During Thanksgiving Season

Giving back to those most in need occurs year round within the Oak Knoll School community and Thanksgiving is no exception.

This Thanksgiving the Upper School collected donations and raised $500 for the Pierre Toussaint Food Pantry located in Newark, NJ – one of 20 MEND member food pantries within the (M)eeting (E)ssential (N)eeds With (D)ignity interfaith food pantry network in Essex County.

MEND is the largest hunger relief network in Essex County and has been providing food to individuals and families in need since 1980.

Oak Knoll estimates that their donations will help feed more than 300 families on Thanksgiving day.

“Our community has fundraised for the Pierre Toussaint Food Pantry in Newark, NJ, at Thanksgiving time for many years,” said Michele Van Kalsbeck, OKS theology teacher and member of the campus ministry program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic this past year has increased the hunger needs of many people in the community,” she said. “Oak Knoll is honored to help this vital organization, and we hope our fundraising efforts brighten many Thanksgiving tables this year.”

Katherine Whelan ’21 of Essex Fells and current Campus Ministry President, has been involved with Oak Knoll’s Thanksgiving outreach since eighth grade and led this year’s fundraising collection for the Upper School.

“The economic effects of COVID have devastated areas that were already struggling and, as a result, many more families find themselves in dire need for a steady supply of food,” said Whelan.

“For this holiday especially, our donations will help to supply individuals, as well as entire families, with a Thanksgiving meal that they would not be otherwise able to afford otherwise. I have seen the impact our school has made in the lives of those receiving our donations and I have been truly inspired. The holidays at Oak Knoll are truly one of a kind in the way that our community’s ever present giving spirit comes to life, and I am excited to see the impact we can make once again,” she said.

While the US was busy fundraising to feed those in need this Thanksgiving, Oak Knoll’s youngest students in the Lower School learned how and why it’s important to practice the character trait of gratitude year round.

In Beth Huck’s fourth grade classroom, students created homemade cards that will accompany Thanksgiving bags of food set to serve 500 parishioners in need at Huck’s parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Three Bridges, NJ.

Huck’s family plans to deliver 50 dinners to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on Thanksgiving.

“With all the sadness in the world, I thought there was no better time like the present to bring joy to people in need,” said Huck. “In the Lower School this past week, we have been focusing on gratitude. My class and I have done a considerable amount of talking and reading about gratitude, so I shared with them the fact that my family would be delivering meals to families in need on Thanksgiving, and I’m sure that people will feel grateful for the food they are given.”

Every teacher in the LS also received a homemade card this week, which included a personal Thanksgiving-themed message from an OKS sixth grade student about why that student is thankful for them.

Oak Knoll families also donated 20 bags of canned and dry goods to St. Teresa of Avila Church in Summit during the school’s Thanksgiving Community Family Mass on. November 15, 2020. The donations served families in need at St. Teresa’s Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

For more information about how Oak Knoll’s community gives back to those in need, check out the service opportunities in the Lower School and Upper School.