The program, sponsored and organized by Cedar Knolls-based Marketsmith Inc., provides the low-income families that send someone to the school with a voucher not only to buy Thanksgiving dinner at the local ShopRite, but also provides coats, hats and gloves, as well as diapers.
“It really is an incredible night of giving,” he said of the annual event, which will take place for the eighth time Nov. 14.
Last year’s event fed over 1,000 people and provided more than 800 coats.
Garrison deserves accolades himself. He has helped lead an amazing turnaround at the school since taking over six years ago.
“No other school in the state, testing grades 3-8, has seen the increases we’ve had in literacy,” he said.
It’s a reason why the school earned a prestigious Spotlight award from the state Department of Education this year as a “School to Watch.”
Garrison, however, knows there always will be plenty to do.
For his students, he said, the biggest battles in life often are just getting through the front door on a daily basis.
“When our kids walk into the school building, you have to understand they might not be coming from a home,” he said. “A lot of them are displaced. They are staying with a friend or a friend of a friend. And they are coming not knowing if they are going to be able to go home to that same house that evening.”
The impact of this, he said, is telling.
“Not knowing where you are going to sleep on a particular night is disconcerting,” he said. “Just the inconsistency of where you live is hard. They might not have the heat on in their house. Their mom might have been served with an eviction notice. So, they don’t know where they are going to stay that night.”
Or where they will get their next meal.
“There are kids who don’t know whether they are going to eat that day,” he said. “They actually eat at the school. At the weekends, it’s a tossup.”
Garrison said “the ravages of poverty” do not stop there.
“We have other kids whose parents are locked up — and not for the first time,” he said. “They have to deal with the trauma of not having their parents with them. Some are too young to understand, so they take it as abandonment. Others are old enough that they do understand, and they come to school and they have many triggers as a result of the trauma.”
Garrison and his staff do what they can — and they welcome all the hope, and help, they can get from area businesses.
The school recently received a donation of coats from Newark-based Genova Burns.
Angelo Genova, the co-founder and chairman of the law firm, said helping the school was an easy decision.
“Genova Burns is privileged to support such a worthy cause in our community,” he said. “The Camden Street School and Marketsmith’s Bring Dinner Home event touches on the most basic needs of those less fortunate in our area, children, and also their mothers, who we must ensure are in a position to take care of their kids, the youngest generation of our Newark families and future of our city.”
Garrison said Marketsmith’s commitment to the school is a difference-maker, pointing to other efforts the company makes throughout the year.
“Being a Spotlight school would have never happened without the work of Marketsmith,” he said. “So much of what influenced the committee and its decision came from our heart for our community, our heart for our parents and, especially, our heart for our kids.
“The signature piece of that, of course, is Bring Dinner Home.”
Marketsmith founder Monica C. Smith, who was honored with a Great Oak Award for her philanthropic efforts earlier this week, said she would like nothing more than to see other companies follow her example of corporate giving.
“We have not yet met what we’re seeking to do,” she said. “What we haven’t been able to achieve yet is the ability for somebody else to be inspired enough to be able to do the same for Passaic, or Paterson, or Camden, or Trenton.
“Schools that need another angel, or a couple angels.”
Click here to learn more about the Bring Dinner Home event.
Click here to find out how you or your company can help.