Twenty families tackling pediatric cancer at the Valerie Fund Children’s Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey received some early Christmas presents from students at Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell, NJ. Lori Chomko, a teacher at Grover Cleveland and longtime volunteer for the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation led the student body in their efforts to adopt Jay Fund families for the holidays. The results of their efforts were overwhelming. Over 40 bags containing presents for patients, siblings, and caregivers were delivered via school bus by Grover Cleveland Middle School’s Principal James Brown and his staff.
The idea to help pediatric cancer patients and the Jay Fund was inspired by an upcoming speaker who will be visiting the school in the New Year, former NFL player, Devon Still, whose daughter battled cancer.
Lori Chomko shared some of the details about how the student body worked together to make a difference.
How did you come up with the idea?
Every year during the holiday season, students and faculty at Grover Cleveland Middle School look to establish a school-wide community service project or fundraiser for an organization to teach our students they can "Make a Difference!" We have conducted food drives for local food pantries, raised funds for organizations like St. Jude and Wounded Warriors.
This year's selection of working with The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund for a toy drive for Beth Israel came as a result of a speaker we have coming to the school in February. Devon Still, former NFL player, whose daughter Leah was diagnosed with cancer, will be a keynote speaker for our students and staff and speak to students about overcoming obstacles in life. Once we secured Devon as the speaker, we knew we wanted to use this holiday service project to focus on children battling with pediatric cancer.
How did this help the students get into the holiday spirit?
Our motto at Grover Cleveland Middle School is "Make a Difference Today- for yourself and someone else!" As adults we always say to children "holidays are about giving and not receiving." These words often fall deaf to children, but when they are directly involved in a project like this, those words now have meaning. Students, faulty, and community members responded and truly brought the "giving" spirit of the holiday season to GCMS. The day before the gifts were delivered to the hospital, every student participated in wrapping. Students sang carols, listened to holiday music, made cards for the children, and even packed notes to the nurses.
Do any of them have family or friends tackling childhood cancer?
We have had students directly impacted with cancer whether themselves or family members.
How many gifts did you collect?
Over 300 gifts were collected. Each bag contained at least 10-15 presents and was labeled for a specific child in the hospital. Bags were even packed for the siblings of the patients. Additional bags with toys for specific age groups were also delivered to the hospital for any additional children receiving treatment who may not have been on our list. Separate boxes were also packed containing arts and crafts and other activities for children to engage in the waiting room or while undergoing treatment.