Community School in Action: How a Connection with Tucker Silk Mill Uplifted Paxinosa Elementary
Updated: Jan 31, 2022
When Jason Hoy, owner of Tucker café at Easton's Silk Mill was searching for new ways to support his community during worsening pandemic conditions, Amy Boccadoro,
Manager of the GDEP West Ward Community Initiative was quick to connect him with a local school community that already had a pulse on what students and families needed most.
This wasn't the first time the two community leaders worked together. Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Jason had been working with Amy to connect with soup kitchens and local nonprofits in the Easton community, where he could direct donations of food and essentials - often with the help of cash donations from his café customers.
Six months later, as winter weather threatened supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables in food banks, Jason hoped his access to healthy produce might help some families in need. Amy's quick-thinking led him to Easton Area School District's Paxinosa Elementary School, where staff were in search of new partners. Within a few days, over 15 bags of healthy produce made their way to Jeanine Stanilious, CIS Community School Coordinator at Paxinosa - and the start of a flourishing partnership was set in motion.
Today, after months of working with Jason, Amy, and the school's surrounding neighborhood, Jeanine reflects on the importance of this very first donation and the growing impact that it's sparked since then. "What started as a four-week program to get fruits and veggies to our families has developed into a months-long initiative that brings our entire community together - not just school families, but anyone in our neighborhood who needs help," shared Jeanine. "We are so grateful to have partners like Jason, Tucker Silk Mill and Amy with the West Ward Community Initiative who are doing whatever it takes to make sure our community has access to the essentials during an incredibly difficult year."
Designated as one of the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley's community schools, Paxinosa Elementary is a central hub for community engagement in Easton's West Ward - both for school families and neighbors who live close by. The Communities In Schools team, lead by Jeanine, works closely with school principal Elise Jones, faculty, and staff to safely open school doors for meal distribution, basic needs support, and free COVID testing and vaccine information - available to everyone in the surrounding neighborhood. Since incorporating the fresh produce bags into their weekly food distribution days, Paxinosa has also seen large increases in the number of families stopping by to pick-up frozen meals and food pantry items as news continues to spread about the resources they offer.
While Tucker Silk Mill has played an important role in growing Paxinosa's capacity to feed families, Jason praises his community of neighbors and customers for their part in making it all possible week after week. For months, the café's customers have been making cash donations that directly support its efforts to give back through a link in their online menu. The grassroot efforts allows site visitors to add donations to their orders - with amounts that directly correlate with food items, like a $15 box of produce. Since the start of the pandemic, Tucker Silk Mill has generated $40,000 worth of food donations to local nonprofits, soup kitchens, and Easton families at Paxinosa.
"Food insecurity has been a huge issue over the last year and we’re grateful that Tucker Silk Mill can be a part of the solution," said Jason, who hand-delivers the donation of produce bags to Paxinosa every Thursday morning. "We are grateful for our customers, who through grassroots support and small donations are making a real, nutritious difference in the community. It shows the power of what's possible when community-spirited people come together and want to help out."
In late January, when donation supply started to grow low, a call to action on Facebook from Jason and then Amy sparked a surge in new donations from the community, securing enough produce bags for months to come - and allowing Tucker to increase its weekly donation to over 25 bags for distribution at the school.
Paxinosa Elementary has remained true to the community school model, with its food distribution efforts being just one of the ways the school brings together students, families and neighbors to support each other and overcome challenges. Now, the Communities In Schools team is making sure everyone in the community feels welcome. CIS Parent Family Liaison, Givel Ledesma recently led efforts to include Hispanic food options and ingredients in the school's food pantry, widening Paxinosa's reach even more. The team will also add over 50 Spanish-language books to its school library, so students can check out books to read with Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers at home.
With the numbers of families and neighbors visiting Paxinosa for meals, resources, and COVID-related support steadily increasing, the CIS team and it's dedicated partners are looking forward to what's to come in the final months of the school year.
"This effort has been the epitome of a community effort - from a small business recognizing a need; to customers wanting to make a direct impact on their community; to an elementary school that connects not just to their families but beyond their school walls to the entire neighborhood," said Amy Boccadoro, whose leadership has grown the West Ward Community Initiative's engagement since its inception over two years ago. "The generosity and recognition that we all need to take care of each other have made this program not only successful, but ongoing."