Psychology and Relationships

This NJ high school culinary teacher is running a food drive from his front yard to feed his students' families

The Carroll family setting up their food drive on their front yard in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Credit: The Carroll Family

When Hackensack High School in New Jersey closed in mid-February due to Covid-19, culinary arts teacher Kelly Carroll made house calls to all his students' parents to go over homeschooling assignments.

He suggested to parents that they make one meal a day together and send him a picture of the final dish.

But when a parent told him that she "was embarrassed" to show him what she was feeding her children since she was out of work, he knew he had to do something.

 "After she said that to me, I was like, that's it. We have got to feed these families," Carroll tells CNBC Make It.

Carroll, 45, and his wife, Cori, 45, a special education teacher at the same school, began asking students and parents if they needed food instead just discussing homework assignments.

Carroll says Hackensack, a suburb just 30 minutes outside New York City, is economically diverse, with both extremely high- and low-income families. (According to city data, the median household income is $59,277, which below the country's median annual income of $61,937. Hackensack's poverty rate is also at 14.3%.)

Kelly Carroll with his wife, Cori.
Credit: Kelly Carroll

After realizing there was no local food bank locally to help families in need, Carroll says he and his wife decided to "step up" and do it themselves.

"We want to be there for our students," Carroll says.

Carroll started to call around to see how he could get some food in bulk, when a close friend who runs a division of Farmer's Fridge in Carlstadt, New Jersey, a healthy meal vending machine start-up based in Chicago, offered him a whole shipment of organic salads and sandwiches, since they were not filling orders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"[S]o I took my pick up truck and I went down there and I got like 12 crates of premade stuff and brought them home and we separated them into family bags. And I started giving them out to my students," Carroll says. 

At first, Carroll was feeding about 10 to 15 families. 

Then as word got around town and he started posting pictures on Facebook, Carroll says more families started to show up at his home, where he sets up crates of food for families in his front yard every Monday or Tuesday.

Credit: Kelly Carroll

Within weeks, more food and cash donations began pouring in from members of the community.

"Last night, we received two truckloads of juice," Carroll tells CNBC Make It.

To date, Carroll says he has raised more than $30,000 and is now feeding around 200 families per week.

Superintendent of Hackensack Schools Robert Sanchez tells Make It that he is very proud of the work the Carroll family is doing.

"The care and compassion that they have demonstrated for our families during this pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary. We are very proud that they are part of our amazing school system," he says.

Carroll says his days in quarantine have been filled with buying and sorting bulk food items, but he wouldn't have it any other way. He also says he has no plans to stop as long as families are still in need.

"I want my kids to grow up knowing that this is what you're supposed to do in times like this."

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