EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Nine students from the Atlantic County Institute of Technology on Tuesday took feeding the hungry into their own hands, bringing boxes of food donations from their classmates to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

By the time their mini school bus was emptied, there were two pallets full of everything from Ramen noodles and canned soups to gummy snacks and pasta.

The holidays are an especially hectic time at the food bank — donation amounts increase, and so do hours logged by staff and volunteers to handle intake, stocking and re-appropriating the goods to those in need.

“I think people remember that it’s the holidays and not every family has the fortunate capabilities of putting food on the table for their family,” said Renate Taylor, a development officer at the food bank. “And I think as human beings it makes us think twice about our neighbors.”

The vocational school’s spirit group, Red Hawk Ruckus, spread word of the need for donations through morning announcements the week leading up to Thanksgiving, asking peers and faculty to help out.

The group promised Chick-fil-A breakfast to the homeroom with the most donations. And, together, the school challenged itself to beat schools around New Jersey taking part in “Students Change Hunger,” a campaign aimed at driving food donations in the run-up to the end of the year.

Laura Cruz, a sophomore at ACIT and a member of Red Hawk Ruckus, said that, more than anything, the holiday season encourages those with means to donate to the hungry in their community.

“When you think about Thanksgiving and having food, you kind of want to think of others who don’t have food,” Cruz said, “and you want to give back to those who don’t.”

ACIT teacher Molly McCullough, the adviser for Red Hawk Ruckus, assisted the students in their food drive. They have plans for a sock drive over the winter, too. But for now, they’re happy so many pitched in to help feed those in need.

“For the first time doing it, we had a really good turnout,” McCullough said.

That seems to be a pattern for other organizations and schools in the area.

“It’s insanity,” Taylor said. “It’s seven days a week for probably a good six weeks because there are fundraisers and food drives everywhere.”

That said, she added, “Thank you for the donations of food right now, but remember us in January and February and March as well, because hunger is a pervasive issue in our community.”

While the community is in the giving spirit, the staff at the food bank is asking for “shelf stable” foods — food that can last, such as canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter (in plastic jars), pasta, rice and canned tuna. And soup — especially soup — pantry manager Debra Fleischer said, because after Progresso’s Vineland plant shuttered last year, the food bank can no longer rely on Progresso’s regular truckloads of donations.

“It can be absolutely crazy (during the holidays),” Fleischer said. “But it’s a beautiful kind of crazy.”

Contact: 609-272-7260 cshaw@pressofac.com @ACPressColtShaw

Staff Writer

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