The school supply drive in Notre Dame High School was held near the entryway to the campus. Here, students take time to thank a donor for making a contribution. Joe Moore photo
The school supply drive in Notre Dame High School was held near the entryway to the campus. Here, students take time to thank a donor for making a contribution. Joe Moore photo
Supplies such as pencils, pens, highlighters and notebooks have always been a sign that a new school year is around the corner. This year is no different – even if back to school is in-person, online or a hybrid of the two.

During the past month, school supply drives have been underway, and items have been mounting up in parishes, schools and nonprofits across the Diocese.

PHOTO GALLERY: School supply drive in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville

On Aug. 21, for example, more than 100 students contributed 176 backpacks and four carloads of school supplies at Notre Dame High School.

Destined for Homefront, which strives to end homelessness in Central Jersey, the collection kicked off the Lawrenceville high school’s Service Learning Program for the 2020-2021 school year. The project was initiated by senior Anna Piacentino as an extension of her own service initiative to collect school supplies in her community for Homefront.

“I got the idea from one of my mom’s really close friends, who is also my neighbor, who recently passed away from cancer. Every year, she would collect backpacks for less fortunate children so they would have something to put their books and supplies in for the upcoming school year,” the teen said.

“I wanted to carry on this tradition but make it a bigger event and collect supplies as well since more families won’t be able to afford school supplies this year due to the loss of jobs brought on by COVID-19,” Piacentino said.

Her community collection expanded to the nearby Memorial Baptist Church, which a close friend attends. That church had a similar drive underway, too.

“But I didn’t want to stop … I wanted to include my high school as well,” Piacentino said, explaining that she got the go-ahead from Dr. Ellieen Ancrum Ingbritsen, the school’s Service Learning coordinator.

Reflecting on the outcome, Ingbritsen noted that the school supply drive gained momentum thanks to the help of student coordinators and fellow seniors.

“It took off very quickly and beautifully and became the kickoff-service event for this year and in the future,” she said, adding that during the first two weeks of the new school year, another collection to benefit the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is planned. “It’s a great testimony to students and how they are inspired to become leaders. It had the dual purpose of not only serving the youngsters in the greater Trenton area but of giving a sense of ‘this is how we do things at Notre Dame.’”

That same sense of enthusiasm was apparent in St. Denis Parish, where similar to a Giving Tree at Christmas, the parish created a “Giving Apple.” Parishioners were encouraged to take tags off the “apple” and fulfill students’ needs for the new school year.

It was uplifting, said Father William Lago, parish pastor, “to take a familiar event and reinvent it for the needs of underserved kids in Monmouth County as school begins.”

The drive will benefit children served by New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency, said Father Lago, whose sister, Donna Weinbel, is a social worker there.

"She alerted me to the needs, and the parishioners are super generous in their response. It's been truly amazing," said Father Lago, noting that with the parish’s help, the agency has been able to open a large storage space called the "Shore Store" where children can pick their own supplies and bookbags.

Sharon Skibbee, who heads the social concerns committee for the linked parishes of St. James, Pennington; St. Alphonsus, Hopewell, and St. George, Titusville, has been busy overseeing this year’s back to school collection at all three churches. The collected goods will go to Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton and Trenton’s Mount Carmel Guild.

“All the supplies will be divided,” said Skibbee, noting that a recent cereal drive among the parishes resulted in 400 boxes being distributed to vulnerable kids at a time when lunch programs are suspended.

With so much of life going virtual, Skibbee said she wasn’t sure what the impact would be on the collections, but the response has been impressive.

“A nice benefit of working together is that Catholic Charities will pick everything up on Aug. 31 and set it out in one big room where everything is divided and lined up,” Skibbee said. “The kids can go shopping and pick up anything they need. It’s just so nice. “