When three teachers from Clarendon School approached the owners of Blue Pineapple, a frozen yogurt store in the Plaza, to help in their fundraising for St. Jude’s cancer treatment center for children in Tennessee, they had no idea that the owners already had a warm spot in their hearts for that institution.
Teachers Anna Falco, Lisa Bartletta, and Piorchinie Ortiz were simply looking to find new and innovative ways to raise money for a good cause.
For Bernice Donato, wife of John Donato, one of the partners in Blue Pineapple as well as Bagel Buffet, this was a chance to give thanks after having survived her own cancer battle. She celebrated her first anniversary of successful cancer treatment in March.
“We already contributed to St. Jude,” Bernice said. “I just celebrated my first anniversary after thyroid cancer. As a cancer survivor, this is a cause close to my heart. People need to know how important it is to find a cure.”
While hers is a slow moving and relatively successfully treated cancer, she said it gave her an understanding of the impact of the disease.”
“When I first found out I had cancer, I thought of the kids,” she said.
St. Jude treats children from throughout the country and around the world, averaging about 7,800 patients each year, but also is deeply involved in research for a cure, research that it shares freely with doctors worldwide.
“People need to know how important it is to find a cure.” -- Bernice Donato
“I don’t charge for weddings I do as mayor,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli in commenting about the school program designed to raise money for the hospital. “But if people want to donate, then it all goes to St. Jude.”
Although Clarendon School has been doing a St. Jude Math-a-thon fundraiser for a number of years, these three teachers got involved about three years ago, and during their tenure, the program was at the top or near the top in raising funds in the state, and in the top ten all three years in the nation.
Although the program has been innovative over the years, the teachers said they were always looking for new ways to raise money including things like muffin sales and this math-a-thon. But this is the first time they hosted a program at a local business.
Richard Donato said the teachers approached the store and the owners were happy to comply. While Blue Pineapple has been open only about a year, Richard and John have owned and operated Bagel Buffet for 27 years, one of the more popular food establishments in town.
Falco said about 300 Clarendon School kids from Kindergarten to sixth grade took part in the Math-a-thon in which they raise money for every correct answer they give either out of workbook or on line.
Called “FroYo for a cause,” the event at Blue Pineapple is the concluding event for a program that started back in February that included everything from selling muffins to donating a $1 dollar to wear jeans one day at school.
On Monday, April 22, from 5 to 10 p.m., Blue Pineapple welcomed Secaucus, and other area residents, to buy a cup of frozen yogurt to raise money and freeze out childhood cancer. Blue Pineapple is partnering with Secaucus Clarendon School as part of the students’ St. Jude Math-a-thon fundraiser.
“We’re donating 10 percent of everything we sell between those hours,” she said.
A cash bucket was also available for anyone who wanted to drop a little extra in as a donation.
Clarendon School Principal Pat Cocucci altered parents via the school communication network about the event, encouraging them to join the effort at the Blue Pineapple.
“What these teachers are doing on their own time is teaching our children how important it to care about other people,” Cocucci said. “They have a true sense of community, and they are true role models, teaching our kids by example.”
The kids who raise money through the year get rewarded for their efforts, receiving prizes that start with a t-shirt for raising $35 and other even better prices depending on how much more than raise.
“This is a school wide program,” said Bartletta, who had worked with the previous organizer then took over three years ago when the organizer retired as a teacher.
Bartletta then approached the other two teachers to see if they would like to get involved, and they agreed.
It’s been a winning combination from the start. Clarendon School was the number one fundraiser in the Math-a-thon program two years ago, and seventh in the nation. Last year, they were second in the state and 8th in the nation.
“This year we’d like to be back on top,” Bartletta said.
Although these three teachers happened to be teachers for Special Needs population, the program is open to all kids.
Falco said she a member of her family was also touched with cancer, but all three teachers pointed out that nearly every family has.
“Almost everyone knows someone,” Falco said.
What makes St. Jude great is that they take all kids, insurance or not.
“They never turn down a child,” Ortiz said.
Students participating in the Math-a-thon work on their own level, and according to the teachers, it has a double benefit, not only raising money for a good cause but helping hone their math skills.
Although this is the concluding event, the school will hold a special assembly to award the prices and tabulate the total amount raised for the year.
Ortiz said the program kicked off in February with a similar assembly that had a video presentation and a rock band.
“You might say we rocked them into it,” she said.
The community responded, too, filling up the store and their cups with numerous combinations, all for a good cause.
“Blue Pineapple is proud to support Clarendon students and their impressive endeavor to raise money and freeze out childhood cancer,” said John Donato. “We are always looking for ways to support our community and what better way to start than with this ‘FroYo For A Cause’ event. We invite other local organizations to partner with Blue Pineapple for fundraising, because we know how important it is to get involved and give back.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.