Members of Center Moriches High School’s Class of 2020 wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the Center Moriches community for the many contributions that were made in recognition of the class’ graduation during the COVID-19 pandem- ic, which prohibited seniors from enjoying a traditional commencement ceremony. Pictorial tributes and video montages were just some of the special gestures made by the close-knit hamlet to properly honor the Class of 2020.
Under the guidance and leadership of senior class advisors Laura Sandberg-DeJohn and Daniel Kudreyko, both high school art teachers, seniors decided to organize a food drive to give back to their community, said class advisors, and chose Helping Makes U Happy, a Center Moriches nonprofit organization dedicated to helping residents in need, as the benefit- ing organization. The food drive was held Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6.
“Helping Makes U Happy was extremely generous when asked to make a donation towards the planned graduation festivities for the Class of 2020, so having HMUH be the benefiting organization was an easy decision,” said Sandberg-DeJohn.
Keith Caputo, HMUH founder, didn’t hesitate when asked to support the Class of 2020, noted his mom, Cassy Caputo. Each year, without fail, Keith meets with Center Moriches High School principal Ed Caswell to see how HMUH can assist the district in celebrating its senior class. In the past, he has purchased prizes for the prom. Keith also helped establish the district’s Senior Walk, a time when graduates walk the halls of Clayton Huey Elementary School in their caps and gowns to pay homage to where their education began.
“When Keith realized that these senior traditions weren’t going to happen, in addition to graduation, he became extremely sad for the students and their families. With the approval of the HMUH board, we donated $2000 and an additional $200 to senior display boards at Clayton Huey Elementary School,” noted Cassy Caputo.
Mindful of the financial impact that COVID-19 had on many families, the senior class chose to organize a food drive. However, organizing this type of event amid the various COVID-19 restrictions and requirements, such as social distancing, was somewhat challenging, explained Sandberg-DeJohn, as most food drives involve close contact with organizers and participants. She said the senior class followed the format that HMUH used for one of its recent food drives, in which specific houses – in this case, the homes of graduates – served as food drop-off sites.
To mark these sites, students painted large wooden pallets, generously donated by Speonk Lumber, in the color scheme of red, white and blue, to honor and thank Keith, as those are his favorite colors. Designs for the pallets were hand-painted by each student. Some students made a peace sign, while others painted a heart. A special pallet was created with the official Helping Makes U Happy logo, which was presented to Keith at his home, at the conclusion of the food drive.
Besides the home sites, the front lawn at Clayton Huey Elementary School on Main Street also served as a donation drop-off. Donned with masks and equipped with hand sanitizer, seniors and their advisors set up shop to accept donations. Sandberg-DeJohn said many folks who saw the collection as they drove down Main Street that day made special stops at King Kullen just to purchase food to donate.
“It really was incredible to witness how many people went out of their way to participate in the senior food drive. The generosity of our community was overwhelming,” said Sandberg-DeJohn.
In total, the seniors collected enough items to fill 85 boxes and bags of food. Much of the food was donated to various senior citizen drop-and-go locations and was also made available at HMUH’S own drop-and-go site. Caputo said a portion of the food will also be distributed at HMUH’s upcoming Feed the Families Program, which takes place every summer. A number of local families will also receive weekly boxes of nonperishable goods to make up for the free/reduced breakfast and lunches they do not receive during the summer months from the school districts, Caputo said. Food pantries at the Center Moriches Presbyterian Church Food Pantry and Christ Lutheran Church will also benefit from the food drive.
“My classmates and I are very appreciative of the many tributes that the community surprised us with and were happy to plan and conduct the senior food drive,” said Nick DeVelvis, senior class president. “We wanted to give back to those in need during these unprecedented times and thank the community for being so supportive of us over the last couple of months.”