Drive for more: JHS seeking peanut butter donations

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Johnston High School students and faculty are looking to make a difference, one jar of peanut butter at a time.

Class of 2020 advisers Nadia Cricco and Vinny Verardo, along with Principal Dennis Morrell, met with the Sun Rise Monday afternoon to discuss the school’s competitive efforts in the latest Rhode Island Interscholastic League peanut butter drive.

The RIIL is seeking peanut butter donations through early April to donate to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Mount Saint Charles has taken home the crown two of the past three years. However, Verardo said Johnston won the drive two years ago, and the town is hungry to do so again.

Student response has reflected that as well.

They recently held a dress-down day, where staff and faculty donated cash or peanut butter to dress down. Dozens of students participated, and Morrell said student-athletes from more than 10 sports took part in the event. He said this collection of Panthers is “the most generous group of kids that I’ve dealt with in my 31 years in education.”

All in all, that event yielded more than 100 jars of peanut butter totaling over 2,000 ounces.

“They come together,” Morrell said. “We’re trying to extend it past the holidays, because even though there are hungry people in November and December, when it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, there’s also hungry people in January and February, March … But when we do things like this, the kids come together and it’s amazing.”

Cricco and Verardo volunteered to help with the drive, which is run by guidance counselor Lauren Fagundes, and they are locked in an inter-school competition of their own. Whichever homeroom collects the most ounces of peanut butter receives a free breakfast, and the response thus far has been strong.

“I think they’re very responsive, at least from our class. I have a 2020 homeroom, [Nadia has] a 2020 homeroom,” Verardo, a social studies teacher, said. “I only know what my homeroom’s doing because I’m not the one coordinating it. We have some peanut butter, I won’t say any totals.”

That comment was calculated, too. Cricco noted that Verardo is “very competitive,” an assessment with which he agreed. Cricco said her homeroom has a “decent amount,” and kids either bring in jars or donate cash that she uses to purchase more peanut butter.

‘So that we keep it kind of a secret, but we have a lot,” Verardo said. “I know one of the English teachers has a pretty substantial amount of peanut butter. I don’t know any other homeroom.”

All three had fond memories of winning the contest two years ago. There was a banner, Morrell recalled, and a ceremony in the auditorium.

There’s still plenty of time to work up the totals to ensure another victory. Verardo said the Student Council usually has a “massive collection” toward the end of the drive. He said that student initiative is what’s most important.

“They take the initiative, they take it themselves and say, ‘This is what we’re doing. I’m on board, I do want to do that. Let’s take it to the next step,’” Verardo said. “So all these kids that we had, we weren’t saying ‘Be here Friday.’ We asked, ‘Would you like to?’ and I think we had something like 18 to 20 kids say, ‘Yes, I would love to.’”

Verardo vividly recalled two years ago that his homeroom took home first place, and he’s got the same kids this time around. He said they want another win, and it only helps that it’s for a good cause.

“That’s what it’s about, a good cause,” Cricco, a world language teacher, said.

“And winning,” Verardo added, with a laugh.

During the interview, Cricco and Verardo sat with a bounty of peanut butter behind them. Spreading the word, they said, can only continue to make a difference as collection totals climb.

“We are trying to say, No. 1, ‘Wow, look at what a great job these kids are doing,’” Verardo said. “And No. 2, maybe people will donate peanut butter to us and say, ‘This is a great cause, here’s the peanut butter.’ So that way we can boost our totals and perhaps win.”

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