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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

Rutherford Students Spread Holiday Kindness

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Students and staff in the school district spend time volunteering and participating in community service projects all throughout the year. During the holiday season, many of them find ways to bring joy and comfort to those in need. For the past few years, the RHS National Honor Society has coordinated the Shoebox Collection. Mrs. Debbie Delia, an Advisor of the RHS National Honor Society, told TIR, “I enjoy getting my students involved in giving back to the community while they learn to appreciate what they have.” This is Rutherford spoke with Mrs. Kelly Lancaster, one of the Advisors to the National Honor Society and Mrs. Sherri Herninko, the Advisor of the Union Middle School Honor Society about this special project.

TIR: Tell us more about how the Shoebox Collection project idea was discovered.

Kelly Lancaster: A few years ago, I was asked if my daughter’s Girl Scout troop would be able to collect stuffed shoeboxes for K - 8 students at a school in Paterson. Last year, students in the RHS Finding Happiness Through Mindfulness elective were discussing the benefits for all involved when helping other people and participating in community service projects. The topic of collecting stuffed shoeboxes for students at the Paterson school came up, and the RHS students ran with it. They quickly emailed Mr. Morano and asked if RHS could collect shoeboxes for middle school students in Newark. Mr. Morano immediately supported it and helped us throughout the process. The RHS and UMS National Honor Society members joined the project and helped generate tremendous enthusiasm.

Sherri Herninko: When I took over the NJHS at Union School a few years ago, I decided to make it very community service-oriented. Kelly sent out a general email last year to all schools regarding the shoebox project and I decided that this would be a great service project for the NJHS of Union School during the holidays.

TIR: Who participates in this project?

KL: All are more than welcome to participate. It began as a high school event, and as Rutherford is known for doing, enthusiasm spread and it quickly became a district-wide and community-centered event. Each RHS and UMS National Honor Society student, under the guidance of Debbie Delia, Kelly Lancaster, and Sherri Herninko, contributed a box for this collection. Other club members, faculty and staff members, Girl Scout and Boy Scout members, and family, friends, and community members also actively participate.

UMS Students preparing shoeboxes

TIR: How many boxes were collected?

KL: There are about 280 - 320 shoeboxes with each collection.

TIR: Where do all the shoeboxes go?

KL: RHS students decided that middle school students, grades 6 - 8, should receive the shoeboxes since our students felt the students in grades 6 - 8 do not always receive as much attention as younger children. An email was then sent out to numerous schools in Newark asking if any would be interested in receiving stuffed shoeboxes for their students. Multiple schools gratefully responded. Members of the RHS NHS will be delivering the shoeboxes to the middle school students at Lafayette Street Elementary School, Avon Avenue Elementary School, and Abington Avenue Elementary School on Thursday, December 19, 2019.

TIR: Can you describe what can be found inside the shoeboxes?

KL: We tell those interested in participating to start with basic life necessities, such as personal care items (deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hair accessories, lip balms), any winter gear (gloves, hats, scarves, socks), school supplies, books, journals, sports cards, a deck of cards or card games, or magazines.

SH: We all contribute something to the holiday boxes. All items including shoeboxes and wrapping paper are donated by staff, students, and their families. I collect supplies in the UMS library for a couple of weeks leading up to the days of wrapping. Students then come in during a few lunch blocks to organize the gifts, and then stuff and wrap the boxes. It is so nice to see them customizing the boxes for boys and girls and I feel like the boxes are special because they are made FOR middle school students BY middle school students.

TIR: Why is this an important community service project for RHS students and members of the community to participate in during the holidays?

KL: This experience demonstrates the good we can all do to help others. It is difficult to articulate the benefits, but no one has ever regretted participating. We often collect more boxes than we anticipated because many volunteers share that the joy of buying items prompted them to buy more than can fit in one box.

Social-Emotional Learning is one of our district goals, and this experience has clearly been an asset to our district. While academic growth is essential to success, social-emotional health is equally important. This experience offers all participants an opportunity to have a positive effect on a child and themselves.

SH: We all enjoy participating in this project because we all work together from beginning to end. The library turns into Santa's Workshop for a couple of days as we blast holiday music and wrap boxes. There is great energy from the students and everyone takes on a job that helps facilitate the whole process. It is great to see the kids having fun and working together toward accomplishing a goal that will mean a lot to other people in the community.

Shoeboxes will be collected until Tuesday, December 17th. Anyone who wishes to donate a shoebox can email me at We are currently in need of more shoeboxes for girls.

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