Oak Knoll Thanksgiving Food Drive Feeds Hundreds of Families

For the past month, Oak Knoll families have been donating non-perishable food items to benefit the Pierre Toussaint Food Pantry in Newark, NJ, as part of the school’s annual Thanksgiving Food Drive. On Friday, November 17, 2023, parents, staff, and faculty volunteers loaded dozens of stuffed food bags and delivered them to the pantry, which distributes hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to families in need. 

Present to receive the bags were Sisters Linda Klaiss and Maureen Walsh of the Sisters of St. Joseph — who have volunteered their time for over 20 years serving the needy in that community. The pantry has served individuals experiencing economic hardship in Newark for more than 23 years and was named after Pierre Toussaint, an early African-American philanthropist and formerly enslaved Haitian whom the Pope has proclaimed Venerable as part of the canonization process. 

Oak Knoll’s Thanksgiving Food Drive is well into its third decade and began through connections between Nonie Murphy, former religion teacher and service coordinator at Oak Knoll School, and the food pantry in Newark. The school has a long tradition of community service and continues to organize student volunteers and food drives for the pantry.

According to Sister Klaiss, the number of families relying on the pantry grows yearly. Behind the scenes, it takes a village of volunteers and donors to purchase, sort, and repackage the food items. On distribution days, a line of people waits outside, illustrating how critical the pantry’s services are.

The sisters emphasized that their volunteer work is about continuing the legacy of service established by their religious order. Even in their retirement, they remain committed to helping feed their community.

“To think,” said Sr. Klaiss, “just looking around the pantry and all these bags, that in a few days, all of this will be converted into packages to go into hundreds of homes for Thanksgiving meals. It takes a lot of hands to distribute, and it took a lot of hands to buy it, sort it, and bring it to the pantry.”

Through actions rather than words, the Oak Knoll student body, faculty, staff, and parents fulfill Holy Child Founder Cornelia Connelly’s desire to “meet the wants of the age” throughout the school year. Community members also contribute to various holiday drives, including pre-K and K students who recently donated over 50 hats and 60 mittens and neck warmers to Family Promise in Summit, NJ, and our upcoming annual Christmas toy and clothing drives.