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Strength in numbers: Jersey City Education Association’s response to supporting first responders

by Emily Litman, JCEA member

As a proud member of the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA), I realize the power of strength in numbers. As I filled my freezer and cabinets with supplies for the quarantine, I became more and more grateful for all I have as each day went by. As I navigated the rough waters of starting remote instruction, with the majority of my students having minimal access to the internet, I was reminded that I am indeed blessed. I am lucky to still have a job and receive my paycheck, when so many fellow Americans are faced with challenges to put food on their tables.

The images of the medical workers, literally fighting the battle of COVID-19, was something I could not shake. We all started to realize the scale of this disaster and the effects it would have on our city, state, nation and the world. As governors ordered residents to stay home, the restaurant industry was on the way to being one of the heaviest hit sectors of our society.

A member of the Jersey City Board of Education, Gerald Lyons, started a collection to send bagels to the staff of one of our local hospitals, and this was the inspiration I needed to formulate a plan. I reached out to the JCEA executive board and suggested that we chip in as a local to purchase meals from a Jersey City restaurant to send to the hospital staff.

We identified O’Leary’s Publik House, a favorite local watering hole with amazing food. It is owned by a union family—Kevin Hennessey is a Jersey City fire fighter, and his wife Sylvia teaches at one of our district schools. I found a contact at the Jersey City Medical Center, and the idea was brought to life. I made a plea on our JCEA Facebook page and sat back, hoping to raise a few hundred dollars to purchase maybe 50 meals.

During the next three days, my Venmo notifications made my phone sound like I had hit it big at a slot machine in Atlantic City! In under a week, we raised almost $6,000! We had participation from each and every building where our members work: from early childhood paraprofessionals, to middle school music teachers to high school department chairs. Family and friends chipped in to help, as well. That was enough to have four consecutive weeks of 150 meals cooked and delivered by Kevin and the O’Leary’s staff.

Each week, the hospital staff expressed their gratitude for the delicious meals that were packed up and ready, so they just could grab-and-go after a shift or during a quick 10-minute break. Members asked if we could do a second round, and I am proud to report that we have already raised an additional $3,000!