'Tis the Season at Gill St. Bernard's School

In the Deans' Suite, Arnav Patel '21 juggled an armful of toys – dolls and Legos and magic sets – as he collected donations dropped off by students, faculty, and staff for the Upper School toy drive. His contribution, a package of Hot Wheels, felt right since he used to play with the miniature car replicas himself. This marks the third annual toy drive Arnav has participated in, and now, more than ever, his help feels essential.

"If I can make a difference to a community not as fortunate as ours, it will mean a lot to the children," he said.

Soon Sophie Chang '21 and Sydney Lapper '21 joined Arnav and World Language Teacher Brittany Rajah in gathering the growing pile of toys for delivery to the kids at El Centro Hispanoamericano in Plainfield. The nonprofit provides legal assistance and classes in citizenship, literacy and ESL for immigrants and refugees.

Across campus, similar sights of kindness showed that the spirit of the holiday season is alive and well. Kyle Armstrong, Middle and Lower School director, was thrilled with the efforts of students who contributed rice and past for the drive organized by the MS Student Council to benefit MEND NJ. This interfaith network of 17 food pantries helps the underserved residents of Essex County, which experiences the highest rate of food insecurity in our state.

"I am so pleased the GSB community is coming together to support those in need in greater New Jersey," said Mr. Armstrong. "Thanks to the MS Student Council for arranging the rice and pasta drive. We hope we can make a positive difference for some this holiday season."

The Lower School community joined in the goodwill efforts as first graders held a Kids Can Help can collection. This service-learning activity balanced education, community service, and math, as students counted, categorized, graphed, and stacked the donations in pyramids of 10. All offerings will be distributed to pop-up food pantries in Peapack-Gladstone and Bernardsville. "The pantries began as a way to serve students lunches over spring break at the beginning of the pandemic, but organizers quickly realized this was an ongoing need," said Jill Fedon, Lower School dean of student life.

For First Grade Teacher Anne Wilson, watching her students' enthusiasm proved heart-warming. "At this exciting time of year, wishing for and receiving gifts, our Lower School children find there is joy in giving," she said. "All Lower School students contributed during the first week in December. We are truly thankful for the 604 cans collected."

At the Upper School, the Global Awareness Club teamed up with the Mental Health Club to support Agape House, a Somerset County-based emergency shelter for homeless families and single women. Shelter residents made wish lists ranging from socks to toys to gift cards, and GSB students worked diligently to raise awareness of Agape House and to fulfill the Secret Santa requests. Lea Gnoy '22, Global Awareness Club co-leader, and her family assist at Agape House, and when she suggested lending support for the holidays, club members Kayla Palaia '22 and Lily Micera '22, readily agreed.

"We hope to spread the holiday spirit to the people at Agape House," said Lily, Global Awareness Club, co-leader. "They are battling homelessness, some with families and children as young as 6 months old. Through our drive, we hope to make the holidays in this crazy year just a little brighter for everyone."

Back in the Upper School Deans' Suite, a towering assortment of puffy and plush coats competed for space from the Fashion Club's successful drive. Fashion Club members Regan Macak '22, Katherine Scott ‘22, and Lila Mortensen ’21 gathered the jackets for delivery to Jersey Cares, a New Jersey nonprofit that provides volunteer opportunities to individuals, families, corporations, and community groups. "This is our first coat drive – we wanted to do something for the holidays," said Lila. "A coat can mean so much. It provides warmth and security."

Margery Schiesswohl, the Fashion Club advisor, reported that more than 200 coats were dropped off for fellow New Jersey residents who need comfort this winter. The overwhelming generosity amazed her. "Days like this are just one example of why I love GSB," she said.

Fashion Club President, Taylor Farscht '21, readily agreed: "The drive was a huge success. It is wonderful seeing so much service in our community and to see everyone giving back during these times."

The volume and scope of the many campus-wide community charity drives demonstrates that compassion, one of GSB's core values, is a living action. Thank you to all!