Halfway through this year's Pasta for Pennies donation drive, which benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, the Joseph C. Shaner School in Mays Landing appeared to be falling short if its goal.

The school, which houses 612 Hamilton Township kindergartners and first-graders, raised about $5,900 in 2012, placing among the top 10 contributors in New Jersey for the first time. The school set a 2013 goal of breaking $6,000, but with 10 days left in the fundraiser, it was nearly $4,000 shy.

Child study team secretary and drive organizer Jayne Carmen put out a memo to staff asking them to remind their students the fundraiser was going on, and they responded in overwhelming fashion.

"I would have told you it

wasn't going to happen," Carmen said. "When that final count went in, it was amazing. They had come out with $4,000 in a matter of 10 days, so I'm very happy and very proud of them."

All told, Shaner raised $6,300 for the fight against blood cancer. This was Shaner's 10th year participating in the program, and, counting this year's contribution, has donated more than $36,000 to the cause.

Pasta for Pennies is run by the Olive Garden restaurant in partnership with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a nonprofit that funds blood cancer research and provides education and patient services.

Schools are given change collection buckets that they place in their classrooms for a three-week period of their choosing. Shaner held its fundraiser in February. In addition to collecting change in the buckets, they held dress-down days for teachers and hat days for kids in which they were allowed to break dress code in exchange for small donations.

First-grade teacher Sarah Mack's class raised $373, the highest total in the school. On April 23, her 20 students were rewarded with a lunch catered by Olive Garden, featuring salad, breadsticks and spaghetti with red sauce.

Mack, whose class finished second in the school last year, said she was proud of her student's for coming out on top.

"My kids just worked really hard," Mack said. "Every day, they tried to bring in as much as they could, and it just kept coming in."

Fundraising for various projects has long been a big deal at Shaner, but blood cancer recently became a pet project for the staff when 7-year-old first-grader Ricky McAvaddy died of leukemia in October 2010.

In addition to redoubling their efforts in the Pasta for Pennies fundraiser, the school has held blood cancer awarness programs and held an annual lemonade stand in Ricky's honor, splitting the proceeds between educational needs and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The school may ask a lot of its community as far as fundraising, Carmen said, but it never backs down from the challenge.

"It's always good," Carmen said. "They always step up to the plate."

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