Students at Island Trees High School put a battle-of-the-classes competition to good use last month, collecting more than 3,000 school supplies for the Wantagh-based (JTCF).
Founder John Theissen, a former Levittown student now living in Seaford, visited Island Trees to accept the generous donation and share the story behind his organization. At the age of 17, Theissen was diagnosed with a brain tumor that kept him hospitalized during his final year at MacArthur High School.
"I spent a majority of my senior year in the hospital," Theissen explained to the students. "I met a lot of kids, some who were six or seven years old and left there for weeks at a time without any family support. Everything we do for the kids now means a lot to me."
Ten years ago, the JTCF began hosting the now annual school supply drive to benefit both sick and underprivileged children whose families can not afford the necessary items to go back to school.
"The school drive is for kids who could be sick or are just in a bad financial situation," Theissen said. "A child came to me back then and I noticed the tip of his shoes were cut off. His mom said he'd outgrown them and couldn't afford to get new clothes."
"These supplies will be distributed within a week," he added. "I hope the students today know the immediate impact of what they did with these donations."
Island Trees High School started the beginning-of-the-year class challenge in 2010 when students raised more than 2,000 canned food items. Principal Nick Grande said he was impressed with the students' ability to raise over 1,000 more items in this year's school supply drive, especially the sophomores who outshined the competing classes.
"Every morning the tables were filled with donations," said Grande. "The outpouring of support from our students was tremendous. I'm not sure they realize what a big difference they've made, but someday they will."
The JTCF will begin collecting toys come November for its annual holiday toy drive where Theissen distributes thousands of gifts to children being treated in hospitals across Long Island.