A teacher raised more than $100,000 to buy enough groceries so thousands of children would not go hungry during the winter break

The 34-year-old library teacher at Lakewood Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina, is doing whatever it takes to prove it, and her recent fundraiser, which raised $106,000 to feed her students in need, is her latest gesture of Love.

The winter break could mean weeks of food insecurity for children and their families, Durham Public Schools spokeswoman Crystal Roberts told CNN.

“It’s a basic human right. We’re not talking about raising money to buy people vacations; that’s food, a very, very basic thing,” Parker said. “We have to make sure we take care of our schools because when we take care of our schools, we take care of our communities.”

Her venture, which she dubbed Mrs. Parker’s Professors Foodraiser, used the money raised to buy, pack and distribute more than 5,200 bags of groceries to students in 12 schools across the Durham Public Schools District.

In the dozen schools the project helps, 98% of students rely on the low-cost or free lunches provided by their school. For many children it is the main source of nutrition. But as soon as the holidays come, the schools and their canteens close.

“Mrs. Parker has always had an army of donors and volunteers ready to help address the needs of her students,” Lakewood Elementary Principal James Hopkins told CNN in a statement. “What’s so impressive is that these efforts have brought equal fortunes to students across Durham; in this case a substantial portion of food during the extended holiday break.”

“I need her to know that I love her”

Parker knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was 4 years old, sitting on the floor of her mother’s bedroom, setting out her teddy bears and pretending they were her students.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher my whole life,” said Parker, who has been a teacher for 11 years. “This is what I love, it’s all I ever wanted to do, I’m living my dream.”

Now the mother-of-one teaches more than 400 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, and her love for her extends beyond the classroom.

“I call my students Mrs. Parker’s professors. If that tells you anything, it’s that I believe in her and love her so much,” Parker said. “‘I want them to know that I love them, to remind them that love is an action word. I will tell them all day, but I will also show them all day.”

Her pledge to feed all of her students began in 2015 when one of her student’s parents confided in her that they would not have enough food for the children during the holidays.

“She told me, ‘I’m fine, I can go without food, but I can’t let my kids go two weeks without food.’ It’s really hard to know they have stuff like that and not do everything I can,” Parker said tearfully. “My husband and I started to think if one family is asking that question, there must be more.”

Turquoise LeJeune Parker and her husband.

On December 14, 2015, Parker texted everyone she knew asking if anyone was interested in donating money so she could provide them with bags of groceries for the entire holiday.

Progress was slow but steady. In the first year she raised $500. Last year it reached $55,000. But this year proved to be a record, with more than $106,000 donated by people from across the country.

“It left me speechless. I cried a little bit about it every day,” Parker said. “It has evolved in ways we never expected.”

A lifetime effort

Within two weeks, Mrs. Parker’s Professors Foodraisers raised the money needed to purchase enough groceries to fill large, brown grocery bags for thousands of children in the district.

Each bag contained kid-friendly foods like cereal, canned food, granola bars, and macaroni and cheese that can be cooked regardless of a family’s living situation.

“This is a community effort. That’s not $106,000 out of my pocket, that’s the result of our work as a collective,” Parker said. “That’s because of all the people who have invested their time, money and talents to make sure our children are taken care of.”

With the help of more than 60 volunteers who escorted Parker to a local Costco, the group bought the food and spent days packing the bags before delivering them to each school by Dec. 11.

Volunteers pack the food bags.

“Ms. Parker is a school district’s dream teacher, a perfect blend of competence and compassion who is committed to serving young people holistically,” Durham Public Schools said in a statement.

“Your foodraiser addresses food insecurity head-on, especially at a time of the year when commercialism pushes necessity to the fore,” the statement continued. “Through their efforts, our food insecure students have access to food when schools are closed for the holidays. It is their lifeline.”

The success of the fundraiser inspired Parker to turn it into a lifelong project with the goal of feeding as many children as possible during both winter and spring break. A teacher raised more than $100,000 to buy enough groceries so thousands of children would not go hungry during the winter break

Charles Jones

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