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Award-winning Key Club's next project: Build a Kiwanis club

Jun 03, 2013

Millburn High School Key Clubbers

It’s hard to receive an award for service. There are a lot of great acts of goodness out there; so, it’s downright impossible to get noticed if you don’t enter the contest, isn’t it?

Perhaps, but not so for New Jersey’s Millburn High School Key Club, winner of the state’s Community Food Bank’s Division 5 food-collecting contest. The thing is: No one in the Key Club entered the contest. You can read about the club’s surprise award in the June/July 2013 Kiwanis magazine.

President Marlee Birnberg also answered Kiwanis magazine’s questions about how her club organized their award-winning, hurricane-harassed project and about the students’ goal to build a Kiwanis club.

Kiwanis magazine (KM): Describe your club’s food-collection project.

Marlee Birnberg: Every year, Millburn’s Key Club hosts a Thanksgiving food drive to donate food and money to the Hillside Branch of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. Committee heads Meghna Patny, Grace Jing, Ashley Rose Lynn and Bhavitha Kotha, along with Editor Sylvia Levy and myself, began planning our annual food drive almost as soon as the school year began.

In October, the committee heads, officers and our advisors, Mr. Neil Cooperman and Mrs. Bridgette Nevola, already were spending several hours meeting to discuss plans. However, Hurricane Sandy hit the area in late October, leaving the town almost entirely without power for weeks.

Having no easy way to communicate severely delayed the food drive planning. On the other hand, experiencing the natural disaster’s destruction and lack of resources may have taught us something that gave a boost to our food drive. We were able to grasp what it felt like to be deprived, and we knew there were a large number of people who needed support even when we got our power and daily life back. When we finally came back to school in early November, we finished our plan of a two-part collection process: in school and at local supermarkets.

In school, we partnered with another club’s fundraiser to encourage students to bring food and money into their homerooms. SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) held their second annual Battle of the Classes, where the grades competed in coin collecting and physical activities. The advisor of SADD, Mrs. Jennifer Manis, suggested that they incorporate the results of our food drive into the scoring for the Battle of the Classes. Certain points would be awarded toward the grade for each dollar and each pound of food donated. Additionally, we offered doughnuts to the homerooms in each grade that brought in the most food. We wanted to motivate the students by providing an incentive in addition to the rewarding feeling of helping those in need.

After a club meeting in early November, volunteers created and distributed boxes that had been donated by the Chatham Moving and Storage Company to all 77 homerooms to start the collection. The committee heads and officers took another step forward and helped the Key Club’s class representatives to organize and assign a “food drive ambassador” to every homeroom. The ambassadors spoke about our cause, explained about the food drive and the rules, and encouraged their fellow homeroom students to donate. Some homerooms were incredibly enthusiastic, requesting additional cardboard boxes to hold more than 70 pounds of food items. A few weeks passed by, and we ended the collection as Thanksgiving was rapidly approaching. Key Clubbers helped weigh the food and count the money. We collected more than 1,000 pounds of food and US$319.47 in school.

Meanwhile, our first weekend at ShopRite in early November was successful despite the chilly weather. We raised $1,356.59 and several thousand pounds of food. Although satisfied with our work, we felt like we could do more. Thus, our Thanksgiving food drive turned into a holiday food drive. We headed back to the supermarkets the last weekend of December during school’s winter break. Although we had to cancel one of the dates because of the severely cold weather and the snowstorm, several members stood outside the store for hours asking the shoppers for donations. Once again, we acquired another few thousand pounds of food and $174.08.

Our success would not be possible without such dedicated club members and support from the school and community. It’s nice to know that our hard work paid off, and we were able to help so many people.

KM: What’s your next project?

Marlee: After a few years with an increasingly inactive, and then disbanded, sponsoring Kiwanis club, we decided that it was time to take matters into our own hands. Mr. Cooperman spoke with the Key Club officers about building a Kiwanis club at the beginning of the service year.

We chose committee heads Sonisha Sanju and Ashley Rose Lynn to help with this seemingly impossible task. Sonisha, in particular, has spent countless hours working toward our goal: Kiwanis Re-Creation. Between meetings, writing letters, and posting fliers around town, her actions have been invaluable.

Sonisha and Ashley compiled the list of names and addresses of community leaders and wrote our invitation letters. Our vice president, Chaerin Ahn, created our posters and designed our “reminder” postcards. In general, all of our officers and several members made every effort to be as helpful as possible. And, in support of our goal, members of the Livingston Kiwanis Club, our temporary adoptive parent, advised us on some of these activities.

We know that a Kiwanis club would not only benefit the Key Club, but also the community in general, and we are spreading our message and passion. Our first Kiwanis meeting was on March 18 at Millburn High School, where Key Clubbers, their parents, business owners and other community and school leaders were in attendance. Mr. Cooperman, Sonisha, Immediate Past President Helen He, Kiwanis Lieutenant Governor Mr. Michael Pollack and I spoke at the meeting.

We were pleased with the audience’s demonstrated interest, and we invited everyone back to the high school for our second Kiwanis meeting.